Questions on Forgiveness: 1
Peace negotiations are, for the most part, focused on the political and economic dimensions. What is your perception of the necessity of touching deeper and more genuine aspects of reconciliation and how can this be achieved?
Questions on Forgiveness: 2
What are the conditions in which, beyond securing the interests of parties to conflict, a process that is centered on a sense of fairness and dignity can be established?
Questions on Forgiveness: 3
To what degree is forgiveness an essential dimension of reconciliation? At the root of your political culture and religious faith, what are the principles that either imply or exclude forgiveness? Which verses or sayings that are part of your personal spiritual heritage could in your opinion have a universal significance?
Questions on Forgiveness: 4
Does forgiveness require some form of repentance on the side of those to whom forgiveness is offered? Does forgiveness have conditions or is it unconditional?

Debra Hocking

1) Peace negotiations are, for the most part, focused on the political and economic dimensions. What is your perception of the necessity of touching deeper and more genuine aspects of reconciliation and how can this be achieved?

I believe that to achieve true and meaningful reconciliation a level of trust must be developed or maybe even restored. This may seem difficult in some situations and there are not always easy answers. It is the same as with any relationship, without trust there is no solid grounding. I agree that peace negotiations are partially focused on the political and economic dimensions, but I also would suggest that there has to be a level of forgiveness for the reason there is a need for reconciliation in the first place. Truth telling is also an important component of building a level of trust for reconciliation to begin. If reconciliation is to be achieved, honesty is the foundation of its creation. This honesty must apply to all those trying to achieve reconciliation and may be difficult for some to process. Reconciliation should not be a guilt invoking exercise, but rather one of understanding what has caused the difference and where it has stemmed from. When the current Prime Minister of Australia made a formal apology to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia on February 13 2008, it was considered by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be an honest account of the injustices bestowed on Australia’s Indigenous people due to past government policies and actions. It was a day in Australia’s history where many Australians learned why Indigenous people should receive an apology.
An action such as the Apology does not create reconciliation in an instant but it can build trust which may never have been seen in Australia between Indigenous Australian’s and the Federal Government. As a survivor of the Stolen Generations, to sit in the Australian Federal Parliament on the day the Apology was delivered, and to watch the expressions of those present, who comprised of Stolen Generations and Federal politicians, Prime Minister Rudd uttered the words that no other Prime Minister would dare to say. The word “sorry” was used in the most meaningful and genuine way, to begin to right the wrongs of our shared history. There is still much work to do to achieve reconciliation in Australia but the Federal Apology has no doubt respectfully enhanced the journey on which we all travel to bring peace and respect to both races.

2) What are the conditions in which, beyond securing the interests of parties to conflict, a process that is centered on a sense of fairness and dignity can be established?
Cultural safety for both sides would be integral to establishing the conditions that create a sense of fairness and dignity to parties in conflict;

  • The cultural safety requirements of all parties should be discussed and respected
  • Mediators to the conflict should be trained and mentored previous to entering into mediation
  • Mediators should be approved of by all parties to the conflict
  • Representatives of parties in conflict should be selected by a process that ensures all stakeholders to their particular interest are represented
  • A common ground needs to be established on which to commence dialogue
  • The Australian scenario would be the need for Indigenous Australians to accept that the non-Indigenous Australians were born into the culture that exists in Australia, therefore Indigenous Australians attending the mediation would need to be mindful that apportioning blame for the conflict in  Australia is not a culturally safe exercise for the non-Indigenous Australians attending.
  • The Non-Indigenous Australians need to be mindful that they have inherited the situation in  Australia and it is culturally unsafe for the Indigenous Australians in attendance, to be reminded by the Non-Indigenous Australians that the blame and fault was the colonists and not the current non-Indigenous Australians.
  • Papers should be in common language (in Australia plain English ie; clear concise simple language)

3) To what degree is forgiveness an essential dimension of reconciliation? At the root of your political culture and religious faith, what are the principles that either imply or exclude forgiveness? Which verses or sayings that are part of your personal spiritual heritage could in your opinion have a universal significance?
Personally I think forgiveness is an essential component of achieving reconciliation. We don’t necessarily have to forget or sanitise the act that provided a need for reconciliation, but forgiveness gives us a chance to de-burden ourselves. If I may reflect on a personal situation that put the “f” word into my vocabulary, I would like to tell the following short, but meaningful story.
I was once in the company of a well known Australian Aboriginal Elder who shall for the purpose of the story, be named Aunty D. We were having a chat one day about the wonderful work that she has done and how she has empowered people with her brave, non-judgemental personal accounts of her history.  Her early years were filled with trauma and abuse and to understand how she could speak openly of the injustices that were bestowed on her I was curious to learn from her how come she was so generous and welcoming with her spirit to non-Aboriginal people. She looked at me with a very serious face and said “Well you have to learn to forgive”, to which I answered “but Aunty forgiveness is not in my vocabulary”. Well she said, “you had best put it there”.
I thought about that conversation very intensely after that chat, and began to process just what she was asking me to do. Forgiveness was very new to me and I was confused as to how to go about it. What I realised it meant was to let go of the pain inflicted by those who were supposed to care for me. At first I was challenged to what exactly would happen if I undertook this process. And more importantly I thought “why should I?” As time passed and I thought very hard about this notion of forgiveness, I came to realise that it was actually something within my power and strength to do. I began to forgive very slowly and to this day I have not told the people who brought around this need for forgiveness, that I do forgive them. It has brought a real sense of healing to me that I have never experienced before. I am no longer angry or feel I need to prolong the negative thoughts and actions that are involved with trauma and grief. I have a free spirit and now feel I am in a position to use my experience to guide others through the same process, and that is, to release your past.

4) Does forgiveness require some form of repentance on the side of those to whom forgiveness is offered? Does forgiveness have conditions or is it unconditional?
To be a true form of reconciliation, I believe that forgiveness should seek some form of repentance on the side to which it is offered. By repentance I refer to the word “sorry” being offered by the side of those whom forgiveness is offered. There must be participation on both sides. There can sometimes be confusion with the word “sorry”, as in Australia”s case with the formal Apology to Indigenous Australians for past injustices inflicted by previous governments. Prior to the Apology there was much debate amongst the wider community as to why the Australian government should apologise for something the current generation was not responsible for. Many Australians declared their innocence and found it difficult to understand the notion of Sorry that was going to be offered. “Why should we say sorry for things we weren't responsible for”? This question was debated to a large degree in all aspects of social, political, and economic sectors of the community. I spent much time travelling the nation trying to articulate the Sorry that would be offered from the Australian government. Saying sorry does not necessarily mean you are directly the person responsible for creating the need for sorry, but it has an empathetic connotation attached. There were even strong fears that by saying sorry, compensation would follow and the country would go broke. This of course was simply not true.  Forgiveness, however, can be a problem for many people simply because they are not clear about what forgiveness really is. All too often forgiveness gets confused with reconciliation, a larger process of which forgiveness is but one part. For this concept many Indigenous people of Australia believed that if sorry is accepted, forgiveness can take place, and therefore healing may begin.

Based on your experience on working with reconciliation and forgiveness what are the structure and activities you would suggest for a universal council on reconciliation?
In my experience on working with reconciliation and forgiveness a universal council on reconciliation should encompass as much diversity as possible. There also needs to be quite stringent Terms of Reference to which the council should adhere to. In my past experience, there has been confusion as to who is reconciling with who, and why. In a case here in Australia where non-Aboriginal people are seeking reconciliation with Aboriginal Australians, there is sometimes much confusion as to who should take the lead role. Some non-Aboriginal Australians believe it is up to Aboriginal people to take charge, and the reverse. There must be clear boundaries and protocols to guide a council through the processes of reconciliation. For reconciliation to be truly meaningful there is no place for ego. It takes time and energy to engage with each other, not to mention commitment and willingness. It must be recognised that reconciliation is an ongoing process that should not have to fit in to a particular time frame. In Australia, a Council for Reconciliation was formed with a ten year plan that would theoretically reconcile Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal and we would have a community that would appreciate and work alongside the original inhabitants of the land.
This in fact did not happen and I think one of the barriers of this process is the lack of willingness to tell the truth of the country and just what basis it was colonised under. There is still a long way to go to create further understanding and a deeper sense of compassion for Australians in the wider community.
I recently attended the opening of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, and I firmly believe that the process to which it will undergo, gives sound measures towards reconciliation in Canada. I am currently lobbying the Australian government to consider the likelihood of developing a Truth and Reconciliation here in Australia.
A universal council on reconciliation could perhaps consider renewing partnerships that may have been fractured for many reasons. To physically do this, I would suggest a series of forums/information sharing workshops on a global scale with a guiding set of principles and questions to establish partnerships and undertake meaningful consultation.
Creating rituals of reconciliation should also form part of a universal mandate which may be performed in religious contexts or may even be secular acts. A spiritual dimension however, is usually distinct in reconciliation rituals, particularly where the forgiveness aspect is important. Some of these rituals may include formal apologies, developing statements of reconciliation or orchestrating a physical act to which public can be involved. E.g. in Australia hundreds of thousands of Australians, both black and white, took part in Bridge Walks over their local bridges in solidarity for reconciliation. The National Sorry Day Committee also produced “Sorry Books” for the public at large to write personal reflections on reconciliation.
What has happened in Australia is that these rituals/events have been one-off initiatives and there has been no ongoing process. Even though the events described enabled a huge Australia wide public awareness exercise, there are some frustrations demonstrated around the country that reconciliation is not a sustaining process.

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