The Promise and Pitfalls of Compassion, Forgiveness, Apology


Over the past year we have travelled to South Africa, Israel-Palestine, and the United States to conduct reflective workshops with small groups of people who have lived through political violence, war, conflict, and who have made significant progress on the challenging journey of transforming its dehumanising and enduring impact.

We have sat in intimate circles to share our insights on the toll of human suffering and the complex human journeys away from violence. We have also conducted individual interviews with experienced practitioners before and after these events.

From this, we have been able to gather significant practical wisdom on the process of humanisation and specifically on the promise and pitfalls of compassion, forgiveness, apology. 

In South Africa, we brought together white and black survivors, former combatants, activists, and facilitators. There, we listened to and learned from their experience of the ongoing journey beyond Apartheid and this system’s pervasive relational and socio-economic legacies, 20 years after the birth of a democratic South Africa. This work was challenging, but we found connection and energy by drumming together before and after intense periods of sharing and listening. 

In the midst of an ongoing—and what appears to be a hopelessly entangled—conflict in Israel-Palestine, we were deeply encouraged by participants from the Parents’ Circle-Family Forum and Combatants for Peace who shared their journeys and years of wisdom from working together for non-violent change. Our USA workshop focussed mostly on the inner journeys of Vietnam veterans, many of whom still struggle to come to terms with the human cost of that war for everyone involved.

We also looked at their use of storytelling within high schools through the Veterans Education Project. The next stage of the project is to bring together a few participants from country-specific workshops this month in Northern Ireland/North of Ireland. This international workshop will also include participants from an earlier phase of this project, which brought participants from the conflict in and about Northern Ireland into similar reflective spaces.

On 19 May there will be a one-day public event (more information here) in the Crumlin Gaol, a former political prison in Belfast.  For more information on the work of the remarkable organisations involved in these workshops visit the websites of The Parents Circle-Families Forum, Combatants for Peace, Veterans Education Project, and the Lyndi Fourie Foundation

Wilhelm Verwoerd is a director of Beyond Walls. Since late 2012 he is based in a multi-cultural ecovillage near Cape Town, South Africa, while continuing to work on this project with co-directors Alistair Little and Louise Little.