Thursday, March 17, 2011

Another bowl of oatmeal for my heart

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela is a South African psychologist, born in 1955 who served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding the legacy of apartheid.  She's another hero working to bring peace and healing so I'll share her story here.  After studies at  Fort Hare University, grad school at Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town, she completed a fellowship at Harvard University and now works for the University of Cape Town.  Godobo-Madikizela's most famous book, A Human Being Died That Night; A Story of Forgiveness, recounts her experience in the TRC and the nature of forgiveness through this process.  The book received the Alan Paton Award for literature in 2004 and the Christopher Medal.  I was recently recommended this Nobel Peace Prize nominee's book and it's been a fast, good read.

Click for inside peak
It begins with a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky "Crime and Punishment" that I read nearly twenty years ago but the words still echo in my head:

"Brother, brother, what are you saying?  I mean you have blood on your hands!"  Dunya cried in despair. "The blood that's on everyone's hands...that flows and has always flowed through the world like a waterfall, that is poured like champagne and for the sake of which men are crowned in the Capitol and then called the benefactors of mankind.  Well, just take a look and see what's really what!"

The book is an account of her interviews with state-sanctioned mass murderer Eugene De Kock from the time of apartheid in South Africa. The stories of victims and criminals on both sides of the racial barrier are intermixed in the book.  The striking theme is her growing empathy for those pushed by a cruel system into losing their morality and becoming killers ( from all races) and her attempt to understand what causes someone to be able to commit crimes against humanity.

Here is a very insightful woman leader whose gift of truth telling on paper keeps your attention.  The methods used by the South Africa TRC are reproducible and helpful as we prepare for the 150th anniversary of the US-Dakota Indian War in 2012.  We could pass the blame, ignore the pain, or do something redemptive and marvelous as we acknowledge the legacy of generational trauma.  Perhaps this could help bring healing.

I have chosen to admit that even though I did not directly commit genocide (and as far as I can tell, my ancestors did not participate in the slaughter and exile of the Dakota people), I am still a beneficiary of these atrocities.  I can choose to be busy, work my job, raise my son and be a productive member of society --those are all good things.  But in addition to that, I have chosen to help ensure that my son and the next generation will learn from the mistakes of our past.  Perhaps we can prevent more pain.  Further, I can choose to acknowledge the unfair legacy the Dakota descendants have inherited and do something to tip the scale towards fairness in our society today.  I hope that my work as a neutral will assist in this process -- I'm genuinely optimistic that the people of the United States including our government leaders will choose to be a blessing and an instrument of healing.  I hope we will leave a better country to our children.  Knowing that these powerful models and tools have worked in other parts of the world has helped fill me up this morning and I'm excited to read another chapter while we write our own.