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WHAT COMES FIRST: FORGIVENESS OR PENANCE?

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Responding to: The power of forgiveness in international relations

Both in my private and professional lives I’m ever fascinated by the theoretical, philosophical, and political discourses on and about forgiveness as a concept on the one hand and a process on the other. As a concept, the potential life-supporting and life-enhancing outcomes of forgiveness at both the individual and collective/ national/ global levels are as clear as the brightest hot summer day in the heart of South Africa, or anywhere in the world for that matter. Bring in God and religion (with all due respect) and all is rosy: Pray, forgive, cleanse your soul of anger and bitterness, and then paradise and heaven are all yours (but then again others blow themselves up in the air for this); God will take care of those who cause/ have caused you harm. Amen.

Indeed, there is hardly any emphasis on penance. As a process, I personally find it extremely difficult to forgive anybody/ group/ nation that fail/-s to go into themselves and acknowledge their own wrong- or evil-doings against myself, my people or others. From my real life and professional experience, I believe that forgiveness leads to better and lasting outcomes for all to the extent that the wrongdoer acknowledges his/ her own transgressions. I believe that forgiveness on the part of the offended/ abused must be encouraged parallel with seeking atonement from the wrongdoers/ offender/ aggressor also. Failure to achieve the latter, I can and will argue for example, is a sure guarantee for the perpetuation of the series of personal racial conflict tragedies still flourishing in today’s SA Rainbow Nation. Reconciliation has, of need and necessity, to be a two-way traffic. It is unfair to expect the (formerly) abused and brutalized to just forgive, and hope for God and the global civil society to take care of the rest. Real life is much harsher than that; and in my view this is one of the major challenges in/ of International Relations.

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