Aspects of Reconciliation
Reconciliation cannot occur until victims move through
4 stages of grief work defense, anger, breakdown,
regression, and adaptation. One must concede the truth of
themselves, the conflict situation and give some sign of
this understanding for reconciliation to occur. A good relationship
to oneself; others, God and nature is necessary to release
the energy necessary for peace work. A second necessary
attitude is belief in the equality of all people. With these
beliefs, one is able to move from grief work to conflict
can be defined as a process in which two or more people
or parties revise mainly their behavior and partially their
negative thinking and feeling concerning the other to come
to a new form of coexistence. I address individuals facing
the direct or indirect consequences of armed conflicts although
most of what is said applies to other types of conflicts
such as marital or family disputes. I will not deal with
reconciliation and politics, economics, military, power
distribution among groups, mass convictions, and inter-religious
In early 1994
I watched television and heard about a massacre at some place
in former Yugoslavia. The following things happened within
I suddenly felt
a rage coming over me like a giant wave. I wanted an immediate
bombing of the capital of the state I thought was responsible
for that massacre. Innocent people might live in the capital,
but, in my rage, I viewed them guilty of passivity. Alternatives
that occurred to me were launching of a missile to the presidents
residence, shooting of the president, or arresting him and
trying him in an international court.
I was frightened
of those fantasies.
I admitted that
it was me who thought of all this.
I was very glad
that I had no weapon. Fortunately, there was no way to set
my first fantasy into action. For a short moment, a further
fantasy came into my mind: how would it be, if there were
no weapons at all in the whole wide world?
I was very happy
to see that my wish was only a fantasy and that most probably
I would not have launched a missile, even if I had one.
There were other
feelings. I felt a deep connection with the victims of that
massacre and, for a moment, I wished I could be with them,
helping in some way. Then I realized that I would not know
how to help effectively.
I also felt,
to my surprise, pity for the aggressors. How miserable must
men feel to commit such cruelties? What kind of education
must they have had to be able to do so? In what political
circumstances, terror, propaganda and oppression were they
would have liked to talk to them about their real
needs, their internal wishes, and desires.
I got confused
about feeling pity for both sides. Although I am not schizophrenic,
I heard voices like taped sentences in my mind: "Your
language be Yes, yes or No, no! All other is evil?"
"Who is not for me, is against me!" "Always
define who is the aggressor and who is the victim, then
always stay with the victim because he needs you more than
the aggressor!" Then there were others like, "The
really poor guys are the aggressor! They are the ones who
are even more in need."
A few days after
this event, I heard about another massacre committed by soldiers
of the opponent state. This enhanced my confusion and made
me think that if there is a distinction between aggressors
and victims; it is certainly not between the citizens of one
republic or another but within different parts of their respective
populations. I also wondered if all people are victims, some
just more than the others?
I still wanted
to take some action, but several thoughts prevented me from
doing so. First, I live hundreds of kilometers away from the
conflict area. Second, I believe that everybody has the right
to solve conflicts on his or her own. Third, I heard myself
saying, "You should keep out of an area in which former
generations of your country caused a lot of trouble. They
may have contributed indirectly to the difficulties that are
This paper deals
with the psychological conditions that must be fulfilled to
bring about individual and collective reconciliation. The
process has to progress in a certain order, first enabling
individual and collective mourning, then building up certain
attitudes as preconditions of conflict resolution, and only
then utilizing conflict resolution techniques.
INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE GRIEF WORK
Most experiences in war consist in the loss of ideas (e.g.
hope), of persons (e.g. relatives), or things (e.g. houses,
properties). Mourning, sometimes named grief work, follows
the loss. Yorick Spiegel (1986) described four stages of mourning
necessary for resumption of a normal life: (1) defense, (2)
anger, (3) breakdown and regression, and (4) adaptation.
When a person
hears or experiences something painful, their reaction is
often, "This cannot be true! I do not believe it!"
This is called a defense reaction and is normal. Unfortunately
some people get stuck in this reaction pattern. They never
look really close at what happened. However, when they can
admit that the loss did take place, they are ready to move
to the next stage of grief work.
The second step
in grief work is anger. The anger reaction is widely known
and most probably genetic. This reaction can be misused by
people in power to bring victims to fight back although the
damage cannot be reversed. A spiral of growing violence occurs
when anger is used by both parties in a conflict. When one
sees that anger does not solve the damage, the next stage,
breakdown and regression begins.
stage might be short or last for several weeks. The person
- depending on how severe the loss, their culture, and their
education - might live totally drawn-back, might act out by
screaming, and might need others to hold her or him. Often
victims in this stage are confused. They see no possible future
for themselves, and may think about suicide. New important
decisions should not be made in this stage. Most cultures
have special rites to help people to undergo this stage.
As the four phases
are successfully finished, a person may come to a state in
which his or her mood is still going up and down, but gradually
normalizes towards a clear mind. Decisions needed for the
life after the loss can now be made. Helpers enable people
to pass through all these phases and to not to get stuck in
one of them. Without this work no victim will come to a stage
in which attitudes necessary for reconciliation can occur.
ATTITUDES AS PRECONDITIONS OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION
To try to see the truth in every situation is a positive
sign that the person is ready to do something new
lead to a conflict resolution. As long as she or he does not
want to learn the truth, you should go back to the unfulfilled
needs. Religion may interfere by telling the person what he
or she should feel or think. The person may be afraid of his
own thoughts, but it is very important to see the difference
between fantasy and action. We are responsible for our actions
but only partially responsible for our fantasies.
First look at
self and learn something about you. It is easy to acknowledge
things or behaviors you know already. But to see the dark
side of self is more important. The reflections I gave in
the introduction illustrate trying to see the truth within
oneself. I am the only one who can judge whether this really
happened within me. Staying with ones own truth is one
of the first important steps in conflict resolution.
is often easier because often it can be proved by documents
or witnesses. External truth is a matter of historical research.
There maybe difficulty with permission to publish and openly
discuss historical research but this is necessary to bring
to light conflict in all its nuances. Sound reconciliation
is never based on forgetting. Intentional forgetting seldom
succeeds and usually leads to the opposite: what you want
to forget never leaves your mind. "What we resist, persists"
If its not
forgetting, what then? Excusing? Forgiving? Facing the truth
of what one did almost automatically leads to a response by
self: an open excuse, a public or private gesture, or whatever
is appropriate to the situation in which reconciliation is
needed as a foundation for living side by side. Of course
one cannot be sure that such a gesture is always understood.
That is the risk of every communication. But it is better
to take this risk than to do nothing. You can always try to
understand the situation of the other.
Weltanschauung) as a way to look at the world puts values
onto persons, things, and events. It must meet two minimum
requirements to be useful for reconciliation. First, it must
deliver the energy to pursue the way of peace, a good relationship
to oneself, others, God and nature. Second, it must stress
the equality of all men and women (or even better, strengthen
the values of everything that naturally exists on earth.)
All religions foster peace as a prominent part of their belief
system. Unfortunately most religions, especially the monotheistic
ones, also have parts which tolerate forms of violence in
their theory and/or in their practice. So one must check whether
a religion meets the two criteria. It if does not you can
either go deeper into a certain religious system and search
for its peace tradition - or look for a new really peaceful
There are also
other ways to look at and interpret the world that motivate
people for reconciliation and peace work. These include:
- human rights
groups (e.g. Amnesty International, Helsinki Citizen Committee)
- the peace movement
itself (e.g. International Fellowship of Reconciliation,
Peace Brigades, pax Christi International)
for protection of the environment (e.g. Greenpeace, Robin
Wood, World Wildlife Fund, Findhorn Community, Holyearth
Foundation, Worldwatch Institute)
- the same two
criteria must be applied to these organizations to find
out whether they further or hinder the wish to contribute
to a peaceful world
needs to be cultivated. The usual means to do so is a group
of persons sharing the same ideas. This is a crucial point
for persistence in peace work. Only very seldom is someone
able to live his or her spirituality over a long period by
simply reading books, meditating alone, and so forth.
is the opposite of fear. Since fear is one of the most prominent
sources of unnecessary aggression, self assurance is a most
desirable attitude in peace work. But, how to get it? There
are many educational concepts, training programs for all ages,
and therapeutic approaches, directed towards self-confidence
and assertiveness. Helpers in the peace movement may draw
from those traditions. Most religions also have ways to foster
self-confidence but often they are not taught with primary
emphasis. In Christian teachings, for example, assertiveness
is sometimes seen as interfering with modesty and therefore
not really cherished.
approach to self-confidence is conceived as something lacking
in a persons personality. Therefore, you must add something
(self-confidence). Spiritually, you can achieve self-confidence
by very different ways. You might stress that all is in Gods
hands and that therefore
you can be assured that nothing harmful
can happen. Or you might stress the fact that your own Ego
is not so important, so nothing really can harm it.
The old way,
that of setting up and following some charismatic leader
and giving our power away to him or her, then blaming them
for our faults, was no longer appropriate. There is a new
way pushing on us, a way that is congruent with our evolution
into the 21st century. That new way is for you and me and
thousands of us to free the Gandhi that lives within our
own heart. That new way is to find the courage to unlock
the Martin Luther King inside each of us; to give birth
to the Mother Theresa that is in each of our beings and
to live that consciousness in our daily lives. (Parry, 1991,
You can step to the techniques of conflict resolution
only after having left the stages of grief and after having
built up these attitudes. Techniques of conflict resolution
have been published including:
nonviolent communication (1983)
Warriors of the Heart (1991)
- Fisher and
Urys negotiating technique (1981)
principles (Galtung, 1987)
- Hildegard Goos-Mayrs
nonviolent liberation (1989)
conferences without losers (1989)
- Bach and Wydens
work with dyades of persons (1983)
to conflict resolution appear in different looking packages.
Some are very technical with almost no mention of underlying
beliefs and values (Fisher and Ury, 1981; Rosenberg, 1983;
Gordon books). They provide clear advice about what to do
and are very practical, like good recipe books. Despite their
highly practical value, they often miss crucial points in
conflict resolution like, How can you give warm understanding
to someone else in the midst of a conflict when you are enraged
yourself? Or what use, of what kind of power meets the criteria
of responsibility for others or for the equality of people?
What do I do, when conflict partners cannot or do not want
to talk? How do I get the inner energy to pursue the way of
peace in a hostile environment?
discuss the spiritual or religious back ground spiritually
or religion of their approach, often stressing the prevalence
of the development of internal attitudes over external behavior
changes. They may suggest a way of living and believing (Galtung,
1987; Goos-Mayr, 1989; Parry, 1991). People who have a certain
antipathy against one of the spiritualities, religions, or
ways of living often find it hard to profit from those books.
The main tasks
to be mastered by conflict resolution techniques are:
- getting along
with myself in a conflict situation,
- making myself
Bach, G. R. & Wyden, P. (1983). Streiten verbindet.
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Fisher, R. &
Ury, W. (1981). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without
giving in. Boston, MA: Penguin Books.
Galtung, J. (1987).
Der weg ist dea ziel. Gandhi und die friedensbewegung.
Wuppertal, Germany: Peter Hammer Verlag.
(1981). Der mensch vor dem Unrecht: Spiritualitåt
und praxis - gewaltlose befreiung. Wien, Austria: Europaverlag
Gordon, T. (1989).
Teaching children self-discipline at home and at school.
New York: Peter Wyden.
Parry, C. (1991).
Warriors of the heart. Cooperstown, NY: Sunstone Publications.
B. (1983). A model for nonviolent communication. Philadelphia,
PA: New Society Publishers.
Spiegel, Y. (1986).
Der Prozess des trauerns: Analyse und beratung. Mainz
und München, Germany: Gruenwald Verlag.
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