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Riflessioni sul Perdono, sulla Dignità e sulla Riconciliazione

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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?

When people speak about peace negotiations or peace agreements, they do not really mean real peace. Of course, an agreement can contain some very practical results, from a cease-fire to diplomatic and commercial relations and other mutually beneficial aspects. Not only do emotions not enter into such processes, but many a time all the negative emotions of hatred and resentment do not change very much. One must understand that peace as a spiritual or religious concept, which is mostly a positive aspect, is not identical with peace on the political level which is, essentially, a negative concept – namely, the absence of war. In practical political life there is only a very small difference between cold peace and cold war; sometimes it is just a matter of an making a statement that does not mean very much.
In order for peace – in either the interpersonal or the international sphere – to transcend the level of practical arrangements, there is a need for an inner change of attitude. Sometimes it means forgiving and other times in means forgetting, and changing opinions and prejudices. When such changes occur in reality, there is a better chance for the peace to stabilize. Otherwise, there is always the danger that such agreements be torn to pieces – due to the weight of interests, or by old notions and resentments. Even in the interpersonal level, forgiving is much easier than forgetting. Forgiveness may be an act in which a person or a nation tries to push aside resentments and conflicts. Inner changes of really repairing and changing old rifts and quarrels are far more demanding. On a certain level, time may be the best remedy. When animosity is neither sustained nor rekindled, old hurts and pains slowly disappear. Sometimes, reconciliation can be achieved when the two enemy parties embark on a common cause. Inter-personal as well as international peace is, of course, a positive situation, but it is surely not an easy one to accomplish. It is so much easier to make declarations or, on the personal level, exchange kisses, than to take more permanent steps. Time, and an ongoing effort to heal wounds and solve problems, is the way in which peace can become more permanent.

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?

A sense of fairness and dignity when there are conflicting elements, as well as when there is some history of animosity, is surely not easy to establish. Except for cases of conflicting interests, often the underlying reason for a conflict is lack of fairness in the former situation. People may reluctantly agree to compromises which to an outside party may seem quite fair, but still, the feeling of basic unfairness in the situation will not disappear. People may rationally accept the notion that even a shaky and rather shallow peace is better than war (especially a war in which one wins); but even a rational, sensible agreement will not quench the memory of past offences, along with the accompanying sense of unfairness. Here, too, time may heal some of the wounds, but only rarely will it completely erase the scars. It is so very helpful when the conflicting parties at least admit that their dignity is not offended, and that the new solution is fair. Even if an agreement is only skin deep, at least it creates a chance for healing. Wars and conflicts feed on an ongoing repetition of offenses, both physical and spiritual. When the offenses stop, there is a chance for reassessing the situation. In commercial transactions, the ideal state is when both parties are happy with the results. In political situations, sometimes the best result one can hope for is the feeling that things could be worse, and that the new situation, although not really fair and not always dignified, is at least bearable. On the practical level, one can make the effort of trying to understand past offenses and problems; those of them that cannot be solved, can be forgotten; and statements can be helpful even when they are not entirely sincere. When a person or a nation says to another “Please forgive me,” it is usually not enough, but at least it makes possible to change directions in the future.

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

Forgiveness is essential for reconciliation. Where there is no forgiveness, the conflict is still unresolved. One should remember that quarrels and wars do not grow out of practical considerations. Many fights, on either the personal or the international level, are not intended to change a situation, but rather to remedy the past. Vengefulness may not always a positive quality, but revenge is a very powerful motivation. So many of the punishments in criminal or civil law are basically forms of vengeance, even though it is carried out by society and not by any individual. One should remember that it is not only easy to share hatred with others, but that hatred usually grows in proportion to the quantity of people who share it. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a much more personal emotion. People may forgive and reconcile much more easily as individuals, but far less so as social units. Social leaders, on any level, may make declarations of forgiveness and peace, yet these declarations may be binding only on the social level, and not in the private realm. When a judge pronounces that a certain criminal has “fulfilled his debt to society” and is now to be released without further obligations, that is a social statement, which may often not be acceptable to the victims of the crime. State leaders may make most wonderful speeches about forgiving and forgetting, along with wishes for eternal peace, but even when such statements are utterly sincere, they do not necessarily change the opinions and feeling of individuals.
Even Scriptures contain many more expressions of resentment, anger and hate towards other nations or entities than expressions of love, forgiveness and peacefulness. Although the desire for peace is very widely, perhaps even universally shared, its may often mean as follows: “When I, or we, are able to conquer, subject and rule everybody else, and everybody is obedient and quiet – that is our idea of peace.” There are just a minor issue to figure out: who are the “we” that are the subject of such a sentence; but otherwise, the meaning of this statement is fairly universal. Because of that, many of the poetic and even religious expressions of the wish and prayer for peace should be understood in this restricted connotation only. Although it still is a prayer and a wish for peace, not for war, it is not always very helpful. This is why it is rather easy to find numerous quotations extolling peace and quiet, but in order for them to have any practical meaning, one must very much change their original context. Nevertheless, it is possible to take many of the wishes, prayers and statements that deal with individual peace and apply them in a broader, more general way. And although there does not seem to be any good mechanism for doing this, there still may be hope.

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?

Forgiveness may happen even when it is one-sided; however, it is not easy, neither between individuals nor on a national scale. Even those rare, perhaps legendary individuals who turn the other cheek do not always enjoy the second slap, and may sustain some resentment even when they remain completely passive. Gandhi’s “Ahimsa” works on many levels, but it did not contain an intrinsic component of forgiveness. In real life, one of the main ways for obtaining forgiveness is repentance; but repentance is preceded by another step, also not a very easy one: acknowledging guilt. On the other hand, where there is no repentance it is very difficult to forgive, especially when the forgiving side is not the unequivocal winner in the quarrel. Though it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to undo past wrongs, repentance at least shows that there is some desire of doing so. But when the other side shows no sign of changing anything, or at least of repenting the past, it becomes very difficult to forgive. Because of this, forgiveness often is rather partial. There is some consent or willingness to forgive, but usually it depends on the other side. Experience shows that it is easier to forgive the dead than the living. Even though forgiveness can be unconditional and unlimited, it is still very difficult to achieve. Practically speaking, as lofty the souls of the forgivers may be, forgiveness itself still may depend on a certain condition that is made, explicitly or implicitly, with the other side. If it takes many years, the individual wrongs may no longer be in existence, and ancient misdeeds are so much less felt by the oncoming generations, and forgiving becomes much easier. Yet even with the greatest hopes for a glorious future of universal peace, we still have to add that it should be a very long-standing peace in which there are more practical ways of attaining real forgiveness.

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