The Journey Towards Reconciliation
by John Paul Lederach
Summary written by Jehan Elyas, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
Citation: Lederach, John Paul. The Journey Towards Reconciliation. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999.
The Journey Toward Reconciliation reflects Lederach's insights on reconciliation based on his Christian beliefs as one of the essential elements for peace building. The author presents reconciliation as a way to fulfill his faith. However, he offers a new way of thinking of reconciliation and invites the readers to reflect on the meaning of reconciliation in their own faith.
The stories and events mentioned in this book are drawn from the Bible and from the author's Mennonite background and experiences.
The author attempts to translate Biblical stories and texts into practical strategies for reconciliation and peacebuilding. He sees these Biblical stories as resources that present a framework for understanding the "road to reconciliation." The book describes how to draw a map for the road toward reconciliation referring to all the obstacles, encounters and exits that one may face along the road. It consists of three main parts; each part presents an important stage of the journey.
Part One describes some of the stories and events that Lederach has experienced on his journey toward reconciliation and the four distinct lessons he learned with each event.
The first lesson develops a theology of the enemy; the author reflects on his experience in Nicaragua when his family was threatened. The anger and pressure he went through made him understand how hate grows in someone's heart and how victims of violence learn to hate. The enemy is present--it is created in our hearts and minds.
The second lesson is the capability to create our enemy. Enemies can easily be created in our minds and hearts when:
- We start separating ourselves from others and when we start illustrating the differences between others and ourselves by building negative projections about the other.
- We start seeing ourselves as superiors and better than others and when we lose the sense of sameness with others.
- We dehumanize people, separating and depriving them from what makes them human by denying God's presence within them.
The third lesson is: reconciliation is the restoring and healing of torn-apart relationships. The author envisions reconciliation as a journey to be taken and as a place to be reached. Reconciliation is a place where different interdependent social energies of Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace are brought together and given voice in a dynamic social space. These social energies should be recognized, not as contradictory forces, but as complementary social energies that complete each other and that can be placed together in an open setting to create a deeper understanding that leads to reconciliation.
The fourth lesson: working for reconciliation creates different challenges and dilemmas for peacebuilders as it requires them to work with people of political power. The author struggles between two things: how to work toward bringing peace and holy values to the society, and at the same time, keep himself from being affected by the wrongdoing of these societies. In other words, the challenge he poses is to interact and develop relationships with high-level powers without being engaged in activities that might contradict one's own faith and values.
The second part of the book focuses on conflict and the way people perceive it. According to Lederach,
- Conflict brings change and transforms perspectives, relationships, communications and structure of the group.
- People perceive conflict as a battle that they have to win, rather than a problem to be addressed responsibly.
- They start seeing the person as the problem rather than looking at the issues that lie beyond the person.
As the conflict escalates, it changes the language and shifts the communication between the conflicted parties. These parties adopt the language of blame and accusation. Therefore, instead of confronting each other, conflicted parties tend to shift to communication with others who have the same mindset to talk about the other side. This communication leads to taking sides and framing people as "we" - and "they"--creating a new setting of relationships based on either being with one side or against it. Such a shift changes the social structure of the group(s) in conflict.
These changes make us perceive conflict as a negative, painful and threatening phenomenon that should be avoided. Lederach proceeds to explain how conflict itself is not a negative phenomenon that should be avoided; it is not a sin, but it is part of human nature and is a natural phenomenon. Diversity naturally leads to conflict as people holding diverse views tend to feel threatened by others whose views are different. Reflecting on the book of Genesis, the author illustrates that diversity is part of God's plan for the creation; God values diversity as he created humankind and all creatures different from each other.
Based on Jesus' teaching in Matthew (18:15-20), Lederach discusses some practical guidelines for approaching conflict and how these approaches affect conflict and relationships between conflicted parties.
These guidelines could be summarized as the following steps:
- First: talk directly with the other conflicted person about the problem. Moving directly to the other person means engaging with the person and moving toward finding a solution rather than moving away from it.
- Second: involve a broader group of people as witnesses. Engaging others as witnesses creates safe space for transparency and accountability.
- Third, involve a larger group of people or an institution. Lederach sees working on conflict as spiritual work that makes us encounter ourselves, others and God, therefore he emphasizes the importance of involving the Church [or any other respected community institution] as a third guideline in dealing with conflict.
- Fourth: maintain the relationship and connection with the other party even when we are not able to reconcile. This emphasizes the idea that reconciliation is an encounter with the self, with others and with God.
Lederach stresses the importance of listening as a spiritual discipline and skill that is necessary for handling conflict and building relationships as a way to reconcile. Listening to each other is like listening to God, present in each human being.
The third part of the book deals with the reconciliation as a ministry and as a call from God. God's mission is to bring all people together, to heal and reconcile them with each other and with God. Reconciliation is a journey to a place where Truth, Justice, Peace and Mercy meet. Working on reconciling people with each other and healing broken communities means joining God's mission to bring people together. Through this journey God prepares, supports and encourages us to walk through and encounter our fears, as one reads in Psalm 23.
Lederach lays out three actions: wander, wonder and wait. The journey of reconciliation requires us to wander -- to walk the road without knowing the exact destination we will reach, only with knowing that God is walking before us and with us. The journey of reconciliation also requires us to wonder, to keep our eyes, ears and minds open to seek better understanding. Finally, the journey requires us to wait for good things to happen, good ideas to come and better understanding to occur. To wait means to hope and expect good changes to happen.
Finally, Lederach closes with a guideline to keep believing and dreaming that things can be changed. Dreaming is connecting the present with the future, it is living by faith, living not according the present reality, but according to how the future is envisioned.
This book presents a new way of thinking about reconciliation and peacebuilding by looking deeper at the spiritual aspects of the relationships between man and man, man and God, and how to enhance these relationships in the light of God's love for us.