Forgiveness as a Means of Conflict Resolution

Just as clouds in the sky have different shapes, each conflict is unique. Each offense has different reactions. Every experience of forgiveness is also different from the rest. Nevertheless, both in conflict and in forgiveness certain aspects are repeated. My intention today is to draw your attention to some of these common features, because through them we can learn to manage conflict. My aim is not to encompass everything nor to close the circle. I would, however, like to emphasize one thing: forgiveness is not just an aspiration, it is a real possibility.

Let me start with a personal anecdote. One day in 1977, when I was 12, I was returning home on the bus from school. I lived with my parents in San Sebastian, the Basque Country city where I was born and raised. Unfortunately, ETA terrorism was particularly aggressive in those years. From the bus I could see a crowd of people and the typical atmosphere following an attack. Although it was not my stop, childish curiosity led a friend and me to get off the bus to get a closer look. They had brutally gunned down a local person and some companions. At that moment, the ambulance was leaving the scene. There was a lot of blood on the ground, signs of gunfire on the car, trees, and broken glass everywhere. I got home with the impact of those scenes flashing in my imagination. It was then that I learned that the victim was a friend of my parents, a person that I also knew.

The next day his wife appeared on television news. I can only remember one sentence from her statement: “I forgive my husband’s murderers”. Not only do I remember those words, but they have been engraved in my memory for life, more strongly than even the attack itself.

Why has the image of a woman bestowing forgiveness stuck in my mind? Because a child of twelve already knows what forgiveness means and how difficult it is. Through experience, a child has a sense of offense, dignity, retaliation and forgiveness.

Asking ourselves about conflict resolution implies recognizing a world where offenses exist. The question is whether we can resolve them peacefully, realizing that the desire for revenge is instinctive.

We can not expand on the history of conflict resolution here, but we can say, in the words of the Spanish philosopher Mariano Crespo, that the possibility for forgiveness is something that lies at the “center” of the person . Basic aspects of life converge in the issue of forgiveness: freedom, responsibility for one’s actions, the interdependence of human beings and notions of good and evil. In fact, the great religious teachers have emphasized this question and most religions revolve largely around the concept of guilt.

Therefore, we can find elements of forgiveness at the core of many national legislations. Forgiveness transforms vengeance and redirects it and makes a distinction between the offender and his actions. This is perhaps the most significant aspect: that the person is more than his offense and can not be reduced to it. Although it may be hard to defend in some cases, the concept of forgiveness sustains the idea that a core of dignity remains within the offender, regardless of the offense.

To be continued


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