The centerpiece of my restorative justice work rests on the concept of truth and reconciliation. Whether it is a domestic conflict, a communal issue, or a national or international crisis, we cannot begin to reach toward reconciliation until we are willing and able to face the hard truth about the origins of our tensions, as terribly uncomfortable and vulnerable as it often is to accept our own culpability, and then to listen deeply to the harm done as experienced and reported by the other party. The world is now rife with the tensions of trying to reckon with the truth of horrific past injustices, whether in the Palestine and Israel, gender issues, racial injustice or other forms of disrespect and unspeakable harm done in the past. The whole exercise of truth and reconciliation, of course, depends on whether or not people are willing to just tolerate or to actually move beyond the toxic nature of an intractable conflict and its impact of broken relationships. I consider it one of my life’s missions is to offer the alternative of truth and reconciliation/restorative justice through mutual respect to end extended acrimony and distrust.
Every time I witness the success of a truth and reconciliation process, therefore, I find deep encouragement that it is indeed possible to experience the liberation that truth and reconciliation offers, even among deeply alienated groups. Last evening I had one of those gratifying occasions when I saw a documentary film about a successful truth and reconciliation process between members of the white community and those from the regional tribal community in eastern Washington. The film is “Two Rivers,” and I highly recommend the hour long drama if you would like to watch an uplifting, relatable story. “Two Rivers” is available at the following link. https://www.methowvalleyinterpretivecenter.com/two-rivers-documentary-film/
The story begins with a simple, spiritual awareness that an individual white man felt called to find a way to work together with tribal members still living in the area knowing that no relationship currently existed. He begins with one person and then their tentative relationship and trust grew to include other individuals, and eventually between the two communities. Finally there is a moment when they have established mutual trust the tribal representatives confessed that what they most wanted from the white community was not just friendship, reconciliation or reparations; what they most wanted was respect.
In some ways the primary request for respect in the movie surprised me. But given their living history of oppression and neglect from the white community it made powerful sense. Older tribal members directly related their experiences in Indian schools that were intended to strip them of their Indian identity; photos of local, cruel military and cultural oppression were shown; and finally we learn of genocide experienced by the Methow tribes in the 1800’s. And up to recent times tribal members experienced nearly total neglect and invisibility beyond what they call “platform meetings” (introduction on a stage mostly for show) that never involved deep conversations or sharing. They had no sense of being seen or respected for the individuals and heritage they represented. In other words, there were real traumatic experiences that had to be overcome. So what they were requesting was the primary element of respect: “due regard for the feelings, rights, or traditions of others.” The film then speaks powerfully in support of how we can listen one another through fraught relationships into relationships of trust and respect.
Their request for tribal respect led me to think more deeply about the crucial importance of respect in general in interpersonal relationships and in civil society. We all highly value relationships that are built on mutual respect. And we cringe at the idea of being disrespected, or what street jargon refers to as a verb, as “I have been dissed,” as a basis for a fight. In this wary world respect is a trip wire along the political and interpersonal relations spectrum in general, but especially now when we ignorantly decide who to respect or disrespect and who is to blame and who is to be shamed. The classic liberal attitude of respecting various opinions is being threatened.
Imagine the good will and healing possible when we learn to practice fostering some level of mutual respect, even for those with whom we disagree, or we dislike their lifestyle or even how they live their lives. I believe one way to develop the means to counter disrespect and build a platform for respect is through our stories, learning to initiate and listen with authentic curiosity to the stories of others. That is the theme in the course of the story of the truth and reconciliation drama in the “Two Rivers” film noted above.
In addition to highlighting the importance of respect, the truth and reconciliation documentary ends with a jointly sponsored annual pow wow, shared food, dancing and a continuing effort to share in the lives of the two communities that have included returning some land back to the tribes and supporting their various cultural endeavors. Trust and cooperation of the by-products of mutual respect. Not all efforts to bridge the deep differences and foster trusting respect among us will succeed. Let us always start with listening to one another, sharing our stories, and speaking from the heart as the tribal leader repeatedly requested. And above all, learn to build and express respect and support for the integrity and humanity of the other.