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STS project diary 8 – Forgiveness – Pillar 1 – Understanding

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

Forgiveness Pillar 1 – Understanding – August 1 & August 8 – Both Cohorts

Pillar 1 - Understanding

Often, at times of conflict or hurt, it is very difficult to see the offender as a human being – a human – same as me, just like me.  Often, we cannot fathom how is it that they don’t see us – the human being in front of them, to whom they are causing hurt or harm.  Many questions come up when we are faced with violence, genocide, senseless killings, verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. How is it that human beings commit such unthinkable acts, seemingly have no semblance of humanity, have become so cold and calculated, claim to follow orders, or simply lose control?

What takes over and switches their humanity off? What governs them? Will they be able to find it again? Was it ever there?

The human family

As children we are taught to separate ourselves from those who have done harm, who have fallen beneath the standards set by society; We are taught to silently exclude them from the human family.

When we or our loved ones are hurt, all we see is the offence, what others have done, the loss.  In our eyes, they have lost all semblance of humanity. Often, as the behaviour of others falls below standards or the decent moral behaviour we are taught to expect, those lives are dropped from what we accept as human and relegated to dehumanized soulless creatures.

It might take many years of experience to discover that all of us are fragile, not perfect, susceptible, and vulnerable to many influences. We do not always know how to take charge of our lives or how, to stand above the fog of all that we are influenced by, To break free is not easy and demands much: having the space and circumstances to become conscious of our true values in our own lives; having the experience to shape our selves (not just how we function in the world); to see beyond the dictates of history; to recognize the humanity in others, walk in their shoes; to grasp within their stories what caused them to do what they did, to become what they are today. Not always “us against them”.

It does not mean we condone or agree with the act committed, it does not mean justice should not be pursued.

At some point, the question arises: What then does it take from me to stop the repetition of harm, passed from generation to generation? When the inner need to make this world a better place takes hold, understanding is crucial. It isn’t a morality, one cannot impose it. It is an individual choice made within – and it takes work to see it through.

Within the words – “Understanding our common humanity”,  is a profound sentiment, which speaks not only of understanding in terms of grasping, learning, or knowing something – but intimately standing inside this very simple undeniable inner truth.

When this need is felt increasingly through the fibre of our being, when we live by it, the choices are harder. It is no longer easy to dismiss another human life. And none of the actions we choose to take from that point on are convenient.

The first pillar of Forgiveness and Resilience began with the exploration of the core common humanity amongst all human beings – no matter what their creed or colour is, social status, education, religion, past and present actions, etc., surpassing all boundaries of bias.   The paradigm of perceiving and feeling our common hopes, desires, wishes, basic needs, urges, dreams, longings, is an essential foundation of being able to feel the value for another human life and the fact of it being – human.

Just to name a few – we all long for a peaceful life, we want education for our children, to be treated with dignity and respect, to love and be loved, to be safe, to be self-reliant, to have decent work for decent wages, to forgive, to be forgiven, to be free to make our own decisions and so on…

Our Common Humanity - all we long for, wish for, crave, need, hope for

In small groups, using an interactive jam board participants posted hundreds of words describing the different aspects of our common humanity, which vividly stared at us from the screen begging the question – why is the human race at such odds with itself?

Have you ever felt, at the moment of conflict, when you were both sure you were right – that you knew that something was also essentially wrong?

When we are children we expect others to carry the duty of upholding humanity. When we become adults at some point, one way or another, we may come to see that the future of humanity now rests in our hands, all our hands. And it is no small challenge to uphold our common humanity, to value humanity itself. especially when the demands of just surviving can be great.

Can we establish within ourselves the intactness, the firmness, the resilience: to not be crushed by history, family, religious extremes, or community expectations, as they demand to replay themselves in us?  Either:

*  we follow the great divide, be continually influenced by historically rooted biases and discrimination of different groups, or

* we choose to actively build our own broader, listening, understanding minds: teaching ourselves to understand the cause and effect of oppression and the suffering and harm to which it leads. Consciously or not.

This is no small matter and it demands a great price, few are willing to pay. Yet it can be done,  some have proven that it is possible and rewarding to cherish humanity and human life. With this same journey comes resilience.

four extraordinary stories

Four stories of life-transforming turning points, choices, and decisions to create a different opportunity for a different future. Top left – Layla El-Sheikh – Lost her 6-month-old son during an Israeli lockdown. Top right – Robi Damelin – Lost her son serving in the army reserves, was shot by a Palestinian sniper. Bottom right – Farhad Shamo – A survivor of the ISIS genocide on the Yezidi community in Iraq. Bottom left – Immaculee Ilibagiza – A survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

We were introduced to 4 extraordinary stories.  Each one vividly demonstrated the innate recognition of our human sameness and the turning point that it provided to those seeking a different path to understand each other’s narratives, healing, and reconciliation, ultimately allowing them to break free from the cycle of revenge and violence, and setting a path for the possibility of a different future.

The session ended with a haunting ‘call over’. An affirmation, read aloud in our many languages, a reminder of the quiet diverse song of humanity.

It cannot be forced into us. Each of us must ask ourselves if we cherish these qualities when they appear, and whether we want to look deeper, each day, in some small way to understand, to broaden our minds, to accept the discomfort that comes with it. The more it is done, the more important each moment becomes: especially when our humanity is challenged.

Some words to call over each day, to remind ourselves of ourselves

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