Choose how life goes, is a popular saying, expressing a sentiment that is undeniably noble and good. Yet in fact, we have little choice in the matter. For life is a gift-one that chooses us. Our decision is in what we do with that life, with how we endeavor to lead it-with how tenaciously, and wisely, we defend it; with how well we cope with its tragedies and hardships.
A MEDITATION ON FORGIVENESS, RECONCILIATION, REPARATION AND REVENGE
The idea of reconciliation has deeply engaged me since the mid-1990s, when I spent a considerable amount of time in South Africa trying to understand the truth and reconciliation process in which that country was then engaged. Like much of the rest of the world, I was in awe of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who, as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stood at the center of that process. Despite his influence and stature, I wondered, given the brutal realities of apartheid, about the possibility of real reconciliation between ´victims´ and ´perpetrators.´
Over the years, and after many trips to South Africa, and after meeting and interviewing both Archbishop Tutu and President Nelson Mandela, I remain fascinated by the South African process. I also realized, as I went about my work, that South Africa was not alone. Many countries (some of them inspired by the South African example) are trying to reconcile people who have suffered great betrayal or terrible losses.
In an attempt to understand how reconciliation took place under such circumstances, I visited a range of countries - from Peru, to East Timor, to New Zealand, to Ghana. I also spent time with a range of people in the United States who had suffered cruelties at the hands of others. Ordinary people, I discovered, have a tremendous capacity for reconciliation, renewal and compassion - provided they feel their trauma has been acknowledged and their story has been heard.
Before traveling to East Timor, I sought out Sergio Vieira de Mello, who had served as Special Representative for the Secretary General in East Timor, and who, tragically died later in a suicide attach in Iraq. In the course of our conversation, De Mello told a story about a militia commander who had committed awful atrocities and returned to East Timor to apologize and seek pardon. De Mello would not have been surprised if the villagers had stoned the man. Instead, once the perpetrator apologized and put himself in their hands, they cried and embraced him. It is stories like that, of people who have the capacity to forgive in extraordinary circumstances, that launched me on my journey.
ELLIS COSE is one of America's most renowned journalists and the author of several important books on issues of national and international concern. He is a columnist and contributing editor in the US for Newsweek and the New York Daily News, and is the author of Bone to Pick: On Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge. He has worked with the Truth and Reconciliation Committees in Peru, South Africa, Ghana, and East Timor, and points us in the direction of a more just and harmonious world. His latest book, The End of Anger, a meditation on race, class and privilege, was published in June 2011.
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