From the chpter "On Wisdom" 

  The PeaceMaker SiTe  

includes resources for peace education, non-commercial and other news sources from around the world, and links to information on non-violent conflict resolution..


Chicken Soup for the Soul Stories for a Better World

from the book

Chicken Soup for the Soul®
Stories for a Better World

Used here by permission ©2005

This page created on 10 November 2005

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Reaching Out for “the Other”

For centuries, social and economic discrimination by the British state against Irish Catholics resulted in deadly cross-cultural battles. More recently, the bloody struggles known as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland have affected everyone there on all sides of their political, ethnic and religious divisions. Physical and social boundaries are the outcome of conflicting goals and identities. For over twenty-five years, Loyalists who wished to maintain Northern Ireland as British territory and Nationalists who sought the removal of British control from Northern Ireland were engaged in armed conflict

Many citizens experiencing The Troubles did not take up arms. They sought shelter in their homes situated in culturally segregated communities demarked with murals of their cultural icons, heroes and martyrs. However, their insular neighborhoods became targets for armed opposition positioned on the other side of their society’s geographic, economic and political divisions. Random attacks on “the other” in their community were retaliatory outcomes of an undeclared war on identity difference.

Regardless of the spreading violence that Sean*, a young Catholic man, witnessed, he was shocked and overcome with grief when his apolitical, nonviolent and handicapped sister and her husband were gunned down at home in front of their two infants. Their identities as Catholics in a Nationalist community caused their targeting by Loyalist paramilitaries. The premise of such intimidation is that people will not risk crossing cultural boundaries if they are in fear of their lives. At least they wouldn’t dare do it without taking up arms. The tactic did not have the predictable effect on Sean.

Sean anguished over his family’s losses, but restrained his instinct to drown his pain and anger in pints of ale. He also refused to arm his own household in preparation for a possible attack. Yet Sean realized that a passive non-response to violence sustains it as much as picking up a weapon to strike back. He recalled from history how violence was stopped when the conflict that caused it was constructively addressed. He also knew that peace grows from within, which meant he would have to deal with his current psychological problems before constructively building peace anywhere else.

Sean faced the challenge that all people encounter when their loved ones are murdered: he had to reduce, and hopefully overcome, his anger and anguish. This was particularly difficult for Sean due to his deep affection for his murdered sister Rosaleene. “She was so special. She was born with a disability that almost killed her as a child. Rosaleene’s doctor predicted early that she could never lead a ‘normal’ life. Well, she proved them wrong with her determination and strength of character.” In reflecting on Rosaleene’s courage and strength, Sean realized that he could use those qualities in his current location, the crossroad between revenge and reconciliation.

Sean understood that he needed to do more than avoid revenge and forgive the killers, who were never arrested and convicted. He knew about their paramilitary group and their continued presence in the region. As dangerous as it was, he realized he must heal himself and others by reaching out to those who assassinated his dear Rosaleene.

With the help of his understanding family, Sean decided to change his career from manual work to social work. To learn how he might facilitate social reconstruction with community members on all sides of the group divisions in Northern Ireland, he turned to peace-building organizations. His new career entailed forgiveness and reassurance that he, as well as those he helped, could reach out for and work with the culturally different others in their community.

Thirty years after Rosaleene’s murder, Sean still feels the loss and pain. He accepts the ongoing danger of an attack when he ventures into communities of “the other” to work with them. Yet he is focused in his goal “to build peace through contact, assistance and understanding.” When I joined him in his cross-community work with Belfast teenagers, he gave me pointers on the careful use of identity labels, including Irish and British, that when misused could result in offense or even violence. Clearly Sean had developed essential skills, such as sensitivity to cultural identity, for establishing an integrated community with diverse youth groups.

Last week, Sean began carefully teaching ex-convicts in the community of “the other” conflict resolution and other interaction skills. He demonstrated perception differences and communication problems that lead to misunderstanding. Some of his trainees are former paramilitaries and supporters of the group that killed Rosaleene and her husband.

Says Sean, “I could not come into this area unless I was trusted and given permission. But it’s still scary being in ‘their’ community where recognition of and aversion for my identity difference can be deadly.” But, he maintains, “We need to go beyond forgiveness. We have to reach out for those that we see as the enemy; understand those histories and reasons that make us value and strive for different goals and aspirations. If we stay fixed in our own physical, mental, emotional, social and cultural silos, we will also be viewed as the ‘other.’ When that happens, we lose our common humanity.”

How can you reach out to “the other”? You start with two open hands.

Candice C. Carter, Ph.D.

*Names have been changed.