Forgiveness - who decides?

Forgiveness – who decides?

It is time for individual acts of forgiveness and reconciliation to be allowed.  This unhelpful self-righteous anger on behalf of your community or your people should be challenged.  Individuals should be allowed, in their own time, to choose their own method of dealing with the harms visited upon them.  They should not be made to feel guilty; they are not betraying anyone.  It should be their choice as individuals.

 Suggested Reading Conflict Background GCCT

By Paul Gallagher

I often hear it said that it is wrong to ask individuals if they have forgiven the person that has harmed them.  It may even be more insulting to tell them to forgive a harm especially one that caused a death or injury.  The victim should decide if and when they forgive.  This may be true on an individual level but should it be the case on a wider societal level?

It seems to me that this is the basis for a lot of the ‘whataboutery’ we hear in our country.  I have been listening to this all of my life.  It’s all about how one community did such and such to the other community and we are meant to feel individually harmed by this.  I was born in 1972 – the year of Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday.  These, epoch making events, are seen as seminal moments in how our communities reacted to the cycle of violence, fear and retribution.  Both communities look at these events and other well-known atrocities as attacks on them, not just on the community as a whole, but personally and individually: even those yet to be born.  For many people, such events were the reason they joined the fight.

I disagree with this analysis.  Communities should not take it personally.  They should not be allowed to decide on whether another community should be forgiven or not.  They were attacks on the individual victims and survivors.  It is for the individual victims and survivors to decide whether they forgive the harms done to them.  The same consideration should not be given to the two communities on a societal level.

The ‘harmed’ communities should not be allowed to hold onto their bitterness, anger and outrage.  I feel it is a faux outrage.  ‘They’ did this to ‘us’. ‘We’ cannot forgive ‘them’.  It blames a whole other community for individual harms.

Our politicians should not be allowed to hold onto grudges for their community.  Victims campaigners should be challenged when they claim to speak for the ‘victims’.  They do not represent all victims and survivors.  I feel that some of these campaigners hold people back.  This corporate outrage prevents individual forgiveness and reconciliation.  Breaking the ranks and putting out the hand of friendship and peace is frowned upon.  Forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be offered until the sinner repents!

It is time for individual acts of forgiveness and reconciliation to be allowed.  This unhelpful self-righteous anger on behalf of your community or your people should be challenged.  Individuals should be allowed, in their own time, to choose their own method of dealing with the harms visited upon them.  They should not be made to feel guilty; they are not betraying anyone.  It should be their choice as individuals.

Paul Gallagher was injured at his home in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in an indiscriminate sectarian gun attack in 1994 in which he was left paralysed and confined to a wheelchair.  He is currently the Chairman of Victims and Survivors Trust – a registered charity supporting victims of conflict.  He is also studying for a Degree in Psychological Trauma Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast.

This article was originally published on Paul Gallagher’s blog, ‘A Journey into the Grey Zone’, and is available by clicking here.


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