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Second EditionWhen the Body SpeaksWhispers from the EastWise TherapyWittgenstein and PsychotherapyWorking MindsWoulda, Coulda, ShouldaWriting About PatientsYoga Skills for Therapists:Yoga Therapy

Related Topics
Trauma, Truth and ReconciliationReview - Trauma, Truth and Reconciliation
Healing Damaged Relationships
by Nancy Nyquist Potter (Editor)
Oxford University Press, 2006
Review by Mark Welch, Ph.D.
Jan 16th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 3)

This is a book about a singularly important topic: how do we repair relationships after a wrong, often a wrong so severe that it cannot be simply rectified? How, after either personal or communal abuse or trauma, do we avoid the vortex of recrimination and retaliation? It is a book that deserves to be read slowly and taken seriously.

The collection of twelve essays includes perspectives on reconciliation from psychiatric, psychological, philosophical and theological standpoints, but blends them into an interdisciplinary and multi-dimensional overview that neither propounds any one view nor excludes others. The essays are thoughtful, balanced and scholarly while retaining a real life relevance and urgency.

The chapters discuss the very nature of forgiveness, what it might mean and what it might not. Does it have to be public? Is it always personal? Is the full story always necessary? How does telling your story, or having it told, influence forgiveness? Is the process of the narrative healing in itself, does it lead to some personal reconstruction?

Not surprisingly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from South Africa, and those that followed this example, feature heavily in the text. But stop for a moment and consider what those words might mean and how they are linked. Is it possible to have one without the other? Does the former always have to precede the latter? Does truth-telling always lead to forgiveness and reconciliation; is that the deal? Is reconciliation possible without some form of forgiveness? Is truth all you need? Is truth necessary at all?

However, it does not confine itself to modern times and chapters that deal with Hegel, Husserl and the phenomenology of evil give depth to a historical perspective.

It seems important to ask the hard questions and not to accept the facile answer and that, in part, is why the book is both challenging and stimulating. Perhaps perpetrators have their own story too? What about vicarious trauma? What happens if you don't, or won't or can't forgive?

What happens if you don't want the forgiveness?

What happens if you don't want to apologize?

These are not idle questions. They resonate through our daily personal and political lives. Issues ranging from systematic torture (in which the authors may include not only Chile but post-Saddam Hussein Iraq: the good, the bad and the very ugly) to random violence to rights violation are with us every day. We have political leaders who feel it important to say sorry, even if it was for something that they personally did not do, but which was done either by or for those whom they represent, either now or in the past. An example may be Bill Clinton and his statements over slavery in America or repeated expressions of sorrow and repentance in Canada concerning former governments' policies towards First Nations people. There are those who refuse to apologize because they didn't do it themselves, like Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, condemning 'the black armband view of history" and declining to offer an apology to the country's aboriginal population for being forced to live on mission stations, being deprived of a right to pursue traditional hunting, having land rights taken away, being exposed to radiation tests and so the sad litany goes on. There are those who advocate maintaining the rage and those who find it all too wearing. There are those whose anger consumes them and those may not even feel they have the right to be angry.

Where to go? What to do?

Much of the discussion, and one of the main underlying themes, is couched in terms of relational ethics -- the way we behave. It also seeks to move beyond the person to person interaction and inquire of systems what they can do and what responsibility they bear for the problem, or the solution. Other perspectives that throw light into the darkness include an examination of game theory (the prisoner's dilemma), psychoanalytic understandings of trauma, the gendered context, aboriginal approaches, virtue ethics and theological insights. Some of these chapters are complex and scholarly for the non-expert reader, but they all reward careful reading.

There are some truly awful examples of what people can do to one another detailed in the text, but also some great hope too. But hope is not presented simplistically or tritely. It is treated with measured consideration and profound concern for human suffering brought about by human action (natural disasters and trauma are not part of the discussion).

It is an important book and should interest students and scholars of many disciplines. Most of all it should interest those concerned for the human condition.

 

 

© 2007 Mark Welch

Mark Welch, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta and Co-Director of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre for Nursing & Mental Health


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