Disinfecting old wounds through Acknowledgment, Apology and Restorative Justice
2015 Peggy Kai Memorial Lecture
St Andrew’s Cathedral, Honolulu
October 18, 2015
My work is with the Institute for Healing of Memories. We seek to contribute to
the healing journey of individuals, communities and nations. I travel around the world always seeking to create safe and sacred spaces where journey of healing can take place.
Often when I go to a country for the first time, I like to ask people: In your family, in your personal life, are there things which cannot be spoken about, areas of silence, what we may call elephants in the room.
There may also be an interplay between the personal and the political
What about in the United States of America?
And here in the Hawaiian Islands?
My father was a soldier in the Second World War fighting in the Pacific against the Japanese…
If I may add in parenthesis for a moment: I never heard my father say a negative word against the Japanese….just after my last visit to Honolulu I travelled to Japan for the first time for the launch of the Japanese edition of my memoir: Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer.
My mother told me once that the man who went to war was not the man who came back. Throughout our childhood, our father never spoke about the war. He never participated in the annual marches of old soldiers. Dad kept quiet for nearly 50 years.
Eventually he had to speak and he did the year before he died. There is a big difference between burying rather than healing the past.
In 1973 my religious order sent me to South Africa. In my community, Apartheid was the elephant in the room. We could not speak about apartheid which was affecting every part of our lives.
I once prayed during the intercessions at Mass for someone I knew who was being detained without trial. After the Mass, another brother came and whispered into my ear: we dont have prayers like that here.
We live in a time in history where old wounds in the human family are coming back to bite this generation.
Many of the present conflicts in the world have part of their roots in unhealed wounds from the past.
It is a myth that time heals all wounds.
We know in our intimate relations the power of expressions of apology and sorrow by one party. Of course sometimes the expression of sorrow is not enough. There has also to be a change of behaviour before reconciliation can take place.
One of the facilitators of healing of memories workshops tells the story of how her mother committed suicide. The family picked themselves up and moved on but for a very long time there was silence in the family about what had happened. She first broke the silence in a healing of memories workshop. As she healed she became empowered to break the silence in the family and the healing itself became intergenerational.
In Australia, Aboriginal children of mixed ancestry were forcibly removed from their parents in the misguided attempt to remove their aborginality. They became known as the Stolen Generation. After an official enquiry some years back, there was a call for the Prime Minister to apologise. He refused but thousands of ordinary Australians went on the streets to say “we are sorry.” Finally a new Prime Minister was able to utter those 3 words: We are sorry.
Some would say that the problem comes when people think saying sorry is the end of the journey rather than the beginning of a new journey.
Once before at this Cathedral Church, I spoke about bicycle theology. Bicycle Theology is when I come and steal your bicycle and then I come and apologise for stealing your bicycle. I ask for forgiveness but I keep the bike.
Acknowledgment is a key element in the journey of forgiveness. So is reparation and restitution.
Some years ago I was visiting a Sami community in Sweden. The Sami are the indigenous people in the Northern part of Norway, Sweden, Finland and even Russia. They told me that their church had made an historic apology for its part in their oppression. There was an acknowledgement. They said that the problem is that in the mainstream of the society there was no “knowledge” about what was being “acknowledged”.
So often people who have been violated carry in their bodies and souls across generations the pain and the memory of what was done to them. Those responsible and their descendants remain in ignorance and denial.
Does white America comprehend the pain which is black America. Can the United States truly heal before their is a much greater “knowledge” and “acknowledgment” of the pain of what happened during and since slavery as well as what happened to the indigenous or foundation nations.
The cry: Black Lives matter tells us that the impact of slavery is an arrow through time to todays wounds which continue to be infected.
As an Institute we have recently been partnering with Holman Methodist Church in Los Angeles. A couple of weeks ago we had an introductory workshop with community members and officers of the Los Angeles Police Department. We asked them all to reflect on 3 questions: 1. How has your country’s past affected you. 2. How has the experience of your parents and grandparents affected your life 3. What has been your experience of the relationship between the community and the LAPD. Then we gave people large pieces of paper and asked them to draw in picture form their individual answers. Then in groups of 3, the police and community members were given an opportunity not to discuss but to listen to each other’s stories.
We sat in a circle and shared how it was to share and to listen. One patrol officer said it was the first time she had an opportunity in a relaxed way to hear a community perspective. I learnt that about a third of the intake into the LAPD come from the military. I wondered if warriors easily become good guardians……especially if their own wounds have not healed. On the front line of armed conflict, it is easy to become trigger happy, to shoot before being shot at…..to see people, especially young black men as the “other”. If not the enemy.
The Pastor at our mini workshop also pointed towards the underlying structural character of racism by pointing towards the role of the police in contributing to the scale of mass incarceration of black men.
Black lives matter, mass incarceration, the role of policing, the enduring nature of racism requires a national conversation, a courageous conversation at every dinner table in the land….but a conversation that involves an ability to hear the depth of anger and pain felt by every person of colour.
As an Institute for Healing of Memories we recently convened a conference on the Journey of Indigenous Healing.
What was striking about so many of these foundation nations of the human family was the common experience of genocide, decimation, loss of land, language and culture. At the same time.there was great resilience.
At the conclusion of the Conference we made the Durbanville Declaration and said inter alia that “In confronting the destruction of the past and the present, we urgently invite the nations of the world to convene an international Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will examine grave abuses of human rights committed against indigenous peoples worldwide, where the story can be told and appropriate restorative action taken to redress the grave injustices and to bring healing and new hope.”
Before the end of the Conference we held our Annual Lecture on Cultural Genocide: The Journey of Indigenous Healing. It was delivered by Bishop Mark MacDonald, the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.
The term “cultural genocide” was used in the final report of the Canadian report of their Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the Indian residential schools.
As Bishop Mark said on that occasion, “The more than hundred years of bureaucratically enforced misery and mayhem certainly qualify for this phrase. These two words describe the deliberate and openly acknowledged efforts of government, church, and a whole culture to destroy the fabric of life for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.
Using “cultural genocide” to describe the Indian Residential Schools is an extremely fair-minded attempt to acknowledge that there was no direct attempt to murder children. It does make, at the same time, an effort to reveal the horrifically cruel motivation and scope of the intended destruction. This destruction includes both the massive numbers of the dead on-site at the schools and the continuing lethal legacy of poverty, constant social upheaval, and multiple and enmeshed layers of trauma and stress.”
Those who carried out this policy morally and spiritually injured their victims and themselves.
The TRC made 94 recommendations of what needs to be done. Acknowledgment has happened. Apology has happened. Now it is time for restorative justice. When it comes to implementation, the track record of Commissions of Truth and Reconciliation is far from impressive.
Only if there is enough pressure from below will the executive do the right thing. Elected officials respond if there is enough pressure keeping their feet to the fire.
As Bishop Mark said, “Overt racism, for example, may be ended, but racially shaped evil continues in other forms, as in the inability to perceive structural injustice like the endemic poverty of a people or their further victimization in brutal and unfair policing structures or mass incarceration.
Bishop Mark also noted the observation of Roman Catholic theologian, Robert Schreiter,who has focused his work on reconciliation, having studied the Truth and Reconciliation process around the world for many years. “He importantly observed that reconciliation never happens because an oppressor feels bad about their behavior and wants to do better. Reconciliation begins, Schreiter says, when an oppressed people choose to reclaim their humanity.”
However every rule has its exception. Democratic South Africa has made many achievements since 1994 of which we are rightly proud. Nevertheless we have become in terms of income distribution the most unequal society on earth what is called the gini co-efficient.
In 1994, at the end of apartheid, almost 90 percent of the land in South Africa was owned by white South Africans, who make up less than 10 percent of the population. The government led by the African National Congress (ANC) vowed to redistribute land, but implementing land reform policies has been a struggle. Recently, government officials announced that the 2014 deadline for shifting one third of the country’s land from white farmers to black residents has been postponed until 2025. (sourced from the Internet)
“In academic circles, Mark Solms (Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Cape Town) is best known for his landmark discovery of the brain mechanisms of dreaming, and for his interest in the integration of modern neuroscience with psychoanalytic theories and methods.
However, Professor Solms’ personal dream is one that he pursues outside of academia. On behalf of the Solms-Delta family estate, he is overseeing the rebirth of a Franschhoek farm where wine has been produced over the past four centuries. When he took over the Delta farm in 2002, Professor Solms knew that he wanted the farm to contribute to the redevelopment of the country by means of a land reform project that would give employees a one-third equity stake in the estate. He began by convincing the farm’s virtually indentured tenants that his intentions were genuine, but his idea was initially met with resistance and apathy. To understand this, he sat down with the farmworkers and listened, and through this process, realized that their resistance stemmed from the legacy of slavery itself (the farm had been established using slave labour, and many of the present-day workers are themselves descendants of slaves). Drawing on his experience in psychoanalysis, Solms decided to face the history of the area head-on, employing a team of historians and archaeologists to uncover the past as a means of “finding out what’s the matter” today. This effort culminated in the establishment of the “Museum van de Caab.” Located near to a recently excavated Stone Age site on the estate, the Museum charts the 320-year long social history of the farm, emphasizing the individual people who lived and worked there, and featuring a wall covered in 200 stone plaques, memorializing the history of slavery on the estate.
In 2005, the Solms family established the Wijn de Caab Trust to benefit the 200 historically disadvantaged residents and employees of the Solms-Delta wine estate. The Wijn de Caab Trust now has a 33% equity stake in Solms-Delta, and the profit from wine sales has been used to build and refurbish decent and comfortable homes for the workers and their families, create recreational facilities, and fund social services like private education and healthcare that benefit all. Every employee now has an interest in making Solms-Delta a success.” (University of Cape Town website)
The department of Land Affairs are promoting the Solms Delta story as one model of land reform except that the employees should be given 50% equity.
There are forms of restorative justice which can be all win.
We need more than one lense to look at our own lives, the lives of our families, of the nation and indeed of the whole inhabited earth.
I would like to suggest that one important lense is the one of shared pain.
20 years into democracy in South Africa, there are many signs that we are still a traumatised nation. We have not wiped out our own legacy of genocide, slavery and apartheid motivated by greed that lasted more than 300 years.
In our context I often suggest that we need a new national conversation in which we can speak about our pain which crosses generations. We need to talk about moral and spiritual injury, about how we are infected by values of death….to listen to one another’s pain.
What about in the United States of America… if you look at what was done to the foundation nations, what happened under slavery, and the experience to day of people of colour, mass incarceration, the death penalty, gun violence and the US addiction to war…. do you not see the values of death, moral and spiritual injury permeating the society?
And here in these beautiful Hawaiian islands, it is common cause that the key social indicators including homelessness, rate of incarceration, health, poverty, life expectancy all show that native Hawaiians, the foundation nation is worse off than the rest of the population.
Many social scientists speak about the role of historical trauma in the health of native Hawaiians.
The moral and spiritual injury, the historical trauma of the illegal overthrow of the monarchy and its consequences, continue to infect Hawaii today. Time has not healed that wound.
Acknowledgment, Apology and Restorative Justice have their part to play today.
I am sure that the Clinton apology had its own significance as did the one by the UCC coming as it did with forms of reparation which was balm on old wounds. There may well be other examples which I do not know about
After people have been traumatised, I often hear people talking about the importance of closure. I am not sure that we can or should close the book, however we can close the chapter.
So here, like so many places, we need more courageous conversations, places where we can speak, places where we can listen both with the head and the heart.
These courageous conversations followed by the moral courage to speak and to act are part of the calling of all faith communities, but they need to happen in schools and universities, in work places, by the political classes, among law enforcement officers, in the military, by media workers, at the dinner table and in the bedroom of the nation.
Those of us from the dominant culture have our own stories and our own pain but we need to make sure that we listen twice as hard with compassion and kindness to the voices of those who have not been heard.
As we attend to our own woundedness, face our own complicity with values of death, we can become signs of hope, embracing values of life.
I have no doubt these Hawaiian islands, so far from everywhere, have an important role to play in God’s dream for the human family and for mother earth.
It is here that a foundation nation, the peoples of the East and the West, different faith traditions and world views have the calling to live out peace with justice and become truly a light to the nations.
If I may end on a personal note, I have often asked myself, why I survived a bomb that was supposed to kill when so many others died. I hope that in a small way I can be a living testament of what racism, evil and hatred does to our bodies and our souls. But a thousand times more importantly, I hope that I can be a sign that stronger than evil and hatred and death is kindness, compassion, gentleness, justice, life indeed of God.