Reaching Out for the Other

Candice C. Carter, Ph.D.
University of North Florida, USA


The struggles that became known as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland affected everyone there and all of those connected to people on all sides of their political, ethnic, and religious divides. Conflicting goals, histories and identities of Nationalists and Loyalists, Catholics and Protestants, Irish and British have shaped physical and social boundaries. The majority of citizens in the areas affected most by the troubles did not take up arms in the horrific struggles and they sought shelter in their homes and communities. Yet, their insular neighborhoods of citizens with the same identities actually made targeting easy for armed opposition positioned on the other side of the geographic, economic and political divisions.

Regardless of the spreading violence that postman Ed witnessed, he was still totally shocked when his apolitical and nonviolent sister and her husband were gunned down with their two infant children watching at the hearth of their home. Their identities as Catholics sufficed for their targeting by Loyalist paramilitaries whose victimization helped them control local neighborhoods through spreading of fear. The premise of such intimidation holds that “People will not risk crossing over to the other side of if they are in fear of their lives.” At least they wouldn’t dare do it without taking up arms to join the war on cultural integration in their community.

With the horrible loss of his family, Ed faced the challenge that all people encounter when they lose loved ones to senseless violence. How do victims’ survivors deal with the extreme pain from loss of their nearest and dearest as targets in a violent struggle for power? This was particularly difficult for Ed who had a deep affection for his beloved sister.

“She was so special, she was born with a disability that almost killed her as a child. Rosaline’s doctor predicted that she could never lead a ‘normal’ life. Well, she proved them wrong in her determination and strength of character.” Ed realized that he also could use those qualities at the juncture of crossroads between revenge and forgiveness.

After reflecting on the loss he and his family suffered, Ed understood that it was not enough to forgive the killers, who were never arrested and convicted. He knew about their paramilitary group and their continued presence. With the help of his family, he took a decision to change his career to facilitate social reconstruction with community members on all sides of the group divisions. His new work entailed constant forgiveness and reassurance that he as well as those he helped could reach out to and work with others who were ‘different.’

Thirty years after his sister’s death, Ed still feels the intense pain of loss and threat of identity victimization as he ventures over to the other side of his divided community and world to “build peace through contact and understanding.”

Last week, Ed began teaching another group of “the other” men on issues of childcare and community building. He demonstrated in their activities perception differences and communication problems that lead to misunderstanding. Some of his trainees are former paramilitaries and supporters of the grouping who killed his sister and her husband. It’s still very difficult for him, and it’s scary being in ‘their’ community where recognition of his identity difference can be life threatening. But, he maintains that “You need to go beyond forgiveness. You have to reach out to the other.” Which others can you forgive and reach out in construction of a peace bridge?



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