At the time of writing, normal politics in the UK is on hold. At least nothing much is happening until the issue of Brexit is resolved – if it is to be resolved. The country is divided sometimes bitterly so. Add to this social division the normal conflict between conservative, liberal and socialist ideologies. Also, with the loss of its Christian heritage the various religious and non-religious ways of thinking is not helping unity in the country.
I feel a widening gap is growing between the rich and an increasing social underclass. As a consequence of all this social division in Britain, any time we each might be faced by someone whose ideas and hopes seem to threaten our way of life. The resulting fear and animosity can create a gulf between people.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TCR)
If we wish to reduce discord, can we learn from the South African experience? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a court-like restorative justice body assembled after the end of apartheid. It was empowered to grant amnesty to those who committed abuses during the apartheid era, as long as the crimes were politically motivated, proportionate, and there was full disclosure by the person seeking amnesty. To avoid victor’s justice, no side was exempt from appearing before the Commission.
Research found that the participants perceived the TRC on the whole to bring out some of the truth about the social division and violation of human rights. This was the case to varying degrees, depending on those asked. Some viewed the hearings as not entirely accurate. Some people would lie in order to keep themselves out of trouble while receiving amnesty for their crimes. Getting the right balance between forgiveness and justice proved difficult. Consequently, because of the unaddressed injuries of many sufferers of apartheid, victims’ groups, and lawyers, took various TRC-related matters to South African and US courts in the early 2000’s.
Reducing social division at the local level
Conflict is inevitable. We are each all capable of adding to the flames of discord and disharmony.
“One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” (Henri Nouwen, Dutch Catholic priest)
Which of us hasn’t judged someone or expressed anger when they opposed our ways of thinking? We each might be able to reduce social discord in how we relate with others. How do we embody our views as part of our relationships with people? Can we find ways of resolving disagreement by getting on better with those who want to frustrate us and are working against us. Can we find a better way of communicating? One that takes into account any common ground, any assumptions that might be shared. If we are successful then perhaps others might copy our style of interaction.
Here are some practical tips on how to go about this. They involve:
- Honest self-appraisal
- Not harbouring anger
- Looking for the positive in the opposition.
Reducing social division by honest self-appraisal
Without proper examination of our ideas, we can be unaware of some of the weaknesses of our arguments. In addition, I dare say many of us are a bit blind to our own personal faults. A love of always winning the argument can increase discord. Another is wanting to be in control of what others think.
Reducing social division by not harbouring anger.
Anger with someone need not be a lasting emotion. Bickering and friction escalates when we hang on to anger. When we make it part of ourselves and when we continue to judge or seek retaliation. To turn away from resentful thoughts we need to practise self-restraint.
“Once we begin the work of rejecting hatred and fear – even when we have a reason for feeling that way – we start to experience divine love to a greater and greater degree.” (Morgan Beard, Executive Swedenborg Foundation)
It is a battle within each of us between indulging in furious retaliation and exercising calm rational thought. It is easier to empathise with our opponents who are angrily jumping to conclusions if we were aware of our own tendency to rush to judgment.
Reducing social division by looking for the positive
It is easy to jump to conclusions about what our opponents are saying and misunderstand where they are coming from. However, it is constructive to look for good arguments used by the opposition. It can lead to give and take.
No matter how wrong someone seems, no matter how one might be tempted to write their views off and to think that they don’t have anything useful to say, actually everyone has some ideas that we can respect. They may have a view that is different from our own, however one can still respect their reasons for adopting such an opinion. It may not be the conclusion we make but nevertheless their motive may be good.
Conclusion about reducing social division
Some writers suggest that whether it be between individuals, between alienated local communities and groups, or tackling social division at the national level, the process of reconciliation will fail unless forgiveness, repentance, truth and justice are all present as part of the mix. It doesn’t work to skate over the truth. But how we honestly express our views in a spirit of goodwill is crucial. A very high bar to face.
We can each do our small part to reduce conflict and social division around us. Is there an interest in helping to build a new consensus? Or agree a compromise. Or if all else fails, a willingness to agree to quietly differ?
It will mean pursuing what is right and putting aside self-interest. Then we can better act as a channel for the higher source of harmony and peace.
“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” (Martin Luther King, Jr).