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Riflessioni sul Perdono, sulla Dignità e sulla Riconciliazione

Donald W. Shriver, Jr.

1. I negoziati di pace, generalmente, sono incentrati sulle dimensioni politica ed economica. Quale è la Sua percezione della necessità di toccare aspetti più profondi e genuini della riconciliazione e come si può ottenere questo?

The “depth” that needs much respect are those of TIME AND HISTORY. To many conflicts injured parties on both sides bring long memories of injury. Usually both sides have such memories, which need acknowledgment at the beginning and through the course of negotiations aimed at reconciliation.

Never to be forgotten are the different memories of “the facts” of the past and different degrees of pain associated with those facts. Perpetrators and their descendants tend to forget easily, or to disparage the pain of the victims. “Get over it” the perpetrators like to say to the victims. But victims are slow forgetters, and if they are to get over the injustices of the past, they must have recognition of their memories and feelings from that past by the other side.

Impatience with the remote past, I may add, is a very American characteristic. We Americans need to understand more deeply the sense of history that peoples of many other cultures bring to the process of conflict transformation, and especially to possibilities for forgiveness.

2. Quali sono le condizioni nelle quali, al di là dell’assicurare gli interessi della parti in conflitto, può essere stabilito un processo incentrato su un senso di equità e dignità?

Surely one of the conditions is patience on all sides to listen to the viewpoints and complaints from all sides. A capacity for EMPATHY is an essential here, more important than any amount of argumentative defense of one’s own “case.” I like the suggestion of some conflict-resolution veterans that each side seek to master the other side’s viewpoint and to verbalize that other side’s viewpoint to the latter’s satisfaction. This formula takes time and repetition—there are always crucial details left out from an opponent’s growing understanding of the interests and complaints of the other.

Another element needed here, a component of empathy, is patience with the difficulty victims may experience in verbalizing their painful memories of past injustices. Some gross sufferings are hard to remember, because to re-member them is to re-experience them. (Many illustrations of this phenomenon in the South African TRC.) Some pains are as hard to remember as to forget. This psychological paradox needs to be respected.

Perhaps the leading temptation, on the side of those accused of the injustices, is to reply to the accusers: “You shouldn’t feel that way.” I have learned from my own profession as Christian pastor not to argue with other people’s feelings. One must first respect feelings and viewpoints as prelude to the possibility of changing them. One key moment in any negotiation over the past comes when each side begins to appreciate each other’s different feelings and memories of the same past. “I felt hurt. You felt hurt, too.” That can be the beginning of the healing that makes possible new relationships on the road to reconciliation.

3. Quanto il perdono è essenziale alla dimensione della riconciliazione? Alla radice della Sua cultura politica e/o della Sua fede religiosa quali sono i principi che implicano o escludono il perdono? Quali versi o detti che fanno parte del Suo personale patrimonio spirituale possono, nella sua opinione, avere un significato universale

It is very essential, but it must be defined and pursued very carefully if the word and the process are to avoid superficiality, e.g. as in the adage, “Forgive and forget.” Real forgiveness requires assiduous attention to explicit, empirical articulation of the injuries of the past. “Remember and forgive” is a better adage. Moreover, it is an insult to sufferers of great injuries to expect them, even when they are making progress towards forgiveness, to cancel their memories of the past. Forgiveness, when genuine, delivers the past from its destructive influence on present life and relations. It takes away some of the poison of the past. But—again on the matter of fairness and dignity—it deals with the past by remembering it and treating it as no longer an impossibly high barrier to reconciliation.

As far as I observe from my limited knowledge of other world religions, forgiveness has a strong, even uniquely central, place in the teachings of Jesus. Forgiveness is a theme in Judaism and Islam, but its place in Christianity is more salient than most Christians themselves seem to understand. In the bit of liturgical tradition most practiced by Christians worldwide—the Lord’s Prayer—Jesus asked his disciples to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” His footnote (Matthew 6:14) is direct, almost harsh, on the point: “If you forgive your fellow humans, God will forgive. If you do not, God will not.” The political philosopher Hannah Arendt ascribed to Jesus the “discovery” of the importance of forgiveness in a SOCIETY’S turn from evil pasts to better futures. She may have been mistaken about Jesus’ originality, but she was calling attention to the practical social-healing role of forgiveness in a secular as well as a religious context.

I have tried in my own writings on the subject to stress the complexity of the idea of forgiveness as I read it in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. Perhaps it is appropriate here to adduce my definition of forgiveness which as a whole underscores the nature of human forgiveness as a process rather than an instantaneous act:

Forgiveness in a political context is action that joins moral truth, forbearance, empathy, and commitment to repair a fractured human relation. Such a combination calls for collective turning from the past that neither ignores past evil nor excuses it, that neither overlooks justice nor reduces justice to revenge, that insists on the humanity of enemies even in their commission of dehumanizing deeds, and that values the justice that restores political community above a justice that destroys it.

To be sure, a tall order!

4. Il perdono richiede qualche forma di pentimento da parte di coloro a cui il perdono viene offerto? Il perdono ha condizioni o è senza condizioni?

My general answer is “yes,” especially if we are attending to the practical requirements for restoring or effecting new community between offenders and the offended-against. One of the great confusions in popular talk about forgiveness is the suspicion that to forgive is to treat JUSTICE casually. Keeping a moral “backbone” of truth in forgiveness seems required in most places in the Bible. There is something very wrong, even absurd in the claim, “I forgive you, even if you don’t think you have done anything to be forgiven for.” Such a claim bypasses truth about the past and treats reconciliation as requiring no change on the side of offenders. It treats offense itself as either unreal or unimportant. In one place, T.H. Auden expressed the parody of forgiveness-without-repentance in the boast: “God likes forgiving my sins, and I like committing them. The world is admirably arranged!

Both for the theory and the political reality of the place of forgivenss in politics, therefore, I have to insist that, like all steps towards reconciliation, forgiveness and repentance are twin necessities. Without some degree of repentance, forgiveness stalls near the starting gate. The contrary might also be adduced: without the possibility for forgiveness repentance also stalls, at least for the purpose of leading to reconciliation. An equally useless concept of forgiveness in the politics or reconciliation is the attitude of the victims, “You can repent all you want to, but you are still my enemy, and I want nothing to do with you.” The acid test of a genuine social combination of forgiveness and repentance has to be the new willingness of both parties to live with each other as the alternative to killing each other.

To be underlined in all of this, for practical politics, is the likelihood that in any collective human dealings with the crimes of the past, both sides have crimes to confess and to forgive. One of the hopeful dynamics in the negotiation of two sides comes when each is open to both repentance and forgiveness. Such mutuality can begin to unlock the prisons of painful memory and walls of stubborn defensive self-righteousness.
Nothing inhibits change in a fractured society more than “We are right, and you are wrong.” Nothing encourages the opening of gates to a new future more than, “We both have been both wrong and right.

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