Sometimes the difference between right and wrong seems so clear. Passionate beliefs often cause us to not be able to see the gray area between black and white. And even if we could see it, believing in something means taking a side, right? Taking a side sometimes requires us to take extreme steps to protect our values. The problem is that between my right and your right, wrong happens– wrong that neither of us wanted. There are victims and irreversible damage. In our determination to be right we hurt others. We convince ourselves that there is no one person we’re hurting– that we are going after fixing the wrong, no matter what the cost. The cost has no face. So what if someday we encounter the person who we hurt, or their loved ones and we listen to their story and they ask us to tell ours. Is it possible for there to reach an understanding or for there to be forgiveness? Is it possible that once we forgive, we can heal in ways that create real peace? Imagine.
Recently we watched the incredibly moving documentary, “Beyond Right and Wrong”, which explores what happens to the victims from three different conflicts from recent history. For years, killing and hurting each other has been the way to take a stand for what we believe in. At what point can we instead come together in a room and see each other as human beings? Jo’s father was killed by Pat in Northern Ireland. Beata’s five children were killed by Emmanuel in Rwanda. Bassam and Rami, a Palestinian and an Israeli, learned to see each other as human after losing their daughters. As adult men, neither had actually had a conversation with someone from “the other side” before. Their common grief brought them together. As they all heard each other’s story, they realized something pretty profound.
“Beyond Right and Wrong” shows what happens after the conflict, after the violence, when survivors and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives. Is it possible to balance a need for justice with the desire to forgive? Survivors of conflicts often see themselves as prisoners. Elie Wiesel wrote in his memoir about the atrocities he faced in concentration camps during World War II, “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.” He stated that while he was able to survive the concentration camps he was held prisoner in, he simply could not see himself as truly alive. The experiences he faced, the horrors he witnessed, and the terrors he lived killed him on the inside. Even though he survived physically, he no longer recognized himself. Still, Elie Wiesel has dedicated his life to speaking up for victims of genocide and oppression with a steadfast faith in humanity. The only way for him to do this has been for him to forgive, yet never forget. So we ask… what does it take to be able to forgive?
Can whole societies recover from devastating conflict? Can survivors actually live with, talk to, smile and laugh with someone who hurt them, raped them, killed their parents, or slaughtered their children? Can victims and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives? The Director of “Beyond Right and Wrong” didn’t really know what to expect when she started this film. Lekha Singh wrote, “When I visited Rwanda several years ago, I did not expect to find more healing than horror. I witnessed the resilience of people living in unimaginable circumstances: How was a mother whose children were killed able to sit with the man who murdered them – even able to converse with and smile at him? As I saw more interactions between victims and the ones who wronged them, such questions became more pressing. How could any person in that situation forgive the person responsible? Seeing the entire society move towards forgiveness was even more staggering.”
She was deeply affected. “I had so many questions about these efforts to cope with trauma. Why do some victims take the path of revenge, while others work towards forgiveness? Can forgiveness get in the way of justice? Is forgiveness a requirement for healing or moving on?” She was compelled to explore these questions through the stories of survivors in Rwanda, Israel, Palestine, and Northern Ireland. The survivors share their personal stories that show that there are alternatives to blaming. As the survivors and the perpetrators share their stories in person, a face is put on the conflict. Faces change everything. Each person’s story matters and gives us hope that there is another solution to conflict other than violence and hatred. This is the beginning of the transformative role of forgiveness and, ultimately, peace.