Forgive for the sake of the future?
A lecture by Duncan Morrow
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
29 September 2015
As part of the Community Relations Week programme, a former Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council, Dr Duncan Morrow, gave a lecture that explored how unresolved trauma affects the legacy for future generations.
Sitting in the same chairs as the elected representatives occupy in the chamber at Down District Council, Dr Morrow told the audience that he believed that reconciliation is not an event, but a process.
“What is the biggest obstacle to the future? The past,” he answered.
Indeed, he added, we keep pushing the issue of the past down the road.
In regards to the peace process, the easy part was the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, according to Dr Morrow, because it was a shared result between the British and Irish Governments (and endorsed by popular referendum).
The hard part is agreeing how to deal with the past.
He made the case that you have to do so by rehumanising the legacy of dehumanising.
Here, we need to re-see and re-hear each other, not only to tell our stories, but also listen to those of others. You may not like what you hear, but remember that they may not like what you say to them. And that there is a crucial difference between truth-telling and truth-adjusting, which will require joining up all of our stories.
One alternative, Dr Morrow mooted, was to ‘draw a line’ under the past, which is very tempting and practical. But if we did this, he argued, all of our stories and rituals remain intact, unchanged; the morality of our actions are not questioned; our behaviour will not change.
But what about justice?
Dr Morrow said that if you do use the familiar model of abused versus abuser, then you will not get a resolution or peace. He used the example of a child abuser, and how it would be preposterous to suggest that the abused child had any culpability in the actions of the abuser.
The alternative, he suggested, was to qualify the model by saying that we were both abused and abusers.
Significantly, Dr Morrow said that justice needs to be in front of us (i.e. our vision for a just society), because you can’t apply justice to make everything right retrospectively.
To put this another way, we could have stories where everyone is telling the truth, yet everyone feels injustice.
So how could we put justice in front of us?
Can our politicians tell other stories? asked Dr Morrow. Can we define justice and rehumanise? Can we endure the discomfort of telling and listening to our stories?
And what of forgiveness?
Dr Morrow suggested acknowledging injustice, for the sake of a new day, while recognising what needs to change (including collective responsibility taking for the past). Ask and answer the question, what would restoration mean?
We will need to show mercy.
“We will need to move into the future with those who have done us wrong,” concluded Dr Morrow.
Allan Leonard is a board member of the Community Relations Council.