I’m writing this on our lunch break between class with Libby Hoffman, founder of the organization Catalyst for Change. We just got to learn about Fambul Tok, the reconciliation initiative in Sierra Leone created after the civil war there ended. I’m inspired to write because I understood a few things better this morning.
First was forgiveness. I have never forgiven the people who have harmed me, and I never thought I would. I was even starting to think that was the way it had to be, that perhaps there was no forgiveness possible, sometimes. Watching a film that had been created about Fambul Tok gave me a visceral experience of forgiveness and made me realize that it is necessary. How that might look for me, though, I do not know.
We were struck by how easily forgiveness seemed to happen in these Fambul Tok ceremonies around a campfire. Part of us felt incredulous: could it really be possible that the victims had forgiven the perpetrators? The victims described to the large group gathered around the fire what had happened to them and then the perpetrator acknowledged they had done it, explained why they had done it, and bend down, asking for forgiveness. The forgiveness was granted. I could feel in myself how much the people wanted to forgive – but really, I was feeling in myself how much of a relief it would be to forgive. I could feel how resentment, anger or hatred against someone else is a wall you have to create in yourself, and how forgiveness involves taking down that wall, which allows your energy to burst forth, whole again.
Libby extrapolated off what I had shared of my experience, saying that it sounded like I was talking about how when we have been hurt, regardless of whether we can reconcile with the person who harmed us or not, we must fine a way to release that internal wall and be whole again in ourselves. This is certainly true for me. I feel exhausted by what I am holding on to, tired of it, but how do we convince ourselves that it is safe to let down our guard, how do we reconcile?
We will go further into it this afternoon, but Libby described how the way Fambul Tok is administered and organized and coordinated and carried out – how the process is structured – such that it is a trustworthy process for all involved. A series of steps, from engagement with districts and forming teams with people from the district to engaging with villages and forming teams with people from the villages, ensures that the process is real and authentic. All engagements involve the four questions of do you want to reconcile? how do you want to reconcile? what resources do you already have to do it? and how can we walk with you in the process? serve to create space for the villagers to make their own healing.
Yet later on we discussed how in the Sierra Leone context, forgiveness was necessary because there were no real other options. Victims were living amongst their perpetrators, so what choice did they have to move forward? They could not move away.
And sometimes I think forgiveness is not healthy, or not possible. There was a reason why that wall was put up against another person – because they had hurt you and you needed to project yourself. It feels like by letting down that guard, you could be hurt again. Practically, we know that there are situations where a person or a situation does not change and will always be dangerous. We learn from our experience.