Appreciating the other: Journeys of dialogue and reconciliation from Coventry to Belfast

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Appreciating the other: Journeys of dialogue and reconciliation from Coventry to Belfast
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Shared Future News
6 October 2016

Rising Global Peace Forum and the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building organised a conference at the Parliament Buildings at Stormont, to discuss the on-going peace process in Northern Ireland.

Chris Little MLA introduced the event, by acknowledging inspiring stories of conflict transformation that can be shared from Belfast.

He recognised that reconciliation doesn’t have a pre-laid pathway, but has to start from individuals, the familial and neighbourhood spaces, to wider society.

Little welcomed the current progress in Northern Ireland, with projects like Towards Understanding and Healing or the T:BUC strategy.

He hoped that this Global Peace Forum can encourage people to move forward on our peace journey.

The first presentation was made by Professor Mike Hardy, Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace & Social Relations at Coventry University and Chair of the RISING Global Peace Forum.

He showed the many experiences that can be drawn from Northern Ireland.

Prof. Hardy appreciated that peace building is a complex process that requires compassion.

According to him, dialogue must unite three main values: encounter, exchange and engage.

The “performativity and improvisation of dialogue” make it a performance, built on reciprocal relationships.

For a truly peaceful world, dialogue should be with compassion and understanding of one’s culture.

Indeed, culture is considerable in peace building: it shapes how we define ourselves as well as the way we feel about each other.

The second presentation was addressed by Padraig Ó Tuama, leader of the Corrymeela Community.

Coming from an Irish background, he experienced strong differences of narratives when he moved to England.

He felt that disputes between Protestants and Catholics are exaggerated by hostilities of centuries, different chosen pains in history, and different story telling.

This creates different narratives that justify a preferred version of history and “confirmed what you want to believe”, he added.

For him, we need to take risks and be generous in such a way to transform and surprise.

Dialogue and reconciliation involve an extraordinary pain, which is not easy but better than death or living in a divided society, Ó Tuama concluded.

The Reverend Canon Sarah Hills from Coventry Cathedral Canon for Reconciliation presented the third speech.

She emphasised paths of forgiveness, in contrast to paths of revenge.

She noted that to reconcile is not an option in other places, for example in Burundi it seems to be “reconcile or die”..

For her, it is a complex journey to engage with the other, but the central point should be dialogue.

As an illustration, Rev. Hills quoted Erasmus, saying “at the beginning was conversation”.

She agreed that while globalisation has increased ways of communication, there is still the need to hear and listen to others better.

She also felt that we have to learn to disagree peacefully with each other.

Rev. Hills concluded by saying that a powerful dialogue starts with the understanding of our own story, as well as appreciate the past, in order to transform the future.

Lord Alderdice, Chair of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building, made the last presentation.

He stressed the importance of the broader context in peace building.

Peace making involves constructing a context where dialogue can take place, where you can sit down and talk, Lord Alderdice said.

He felt that there is a need to create new ways of reconciliation and new ways to relate with each other.

Lord Alderdice considered that a major issue of conflict in Northern Ireland is not about individuals, but about disturbed relationships at the level of groups.

Therefore, he continued, reconciliation must integrate group and community approaches.

Peace building is also about creating opportunities for dialogue: the idea is not to force the relationship to work; it is to understand the things that obstruct the natural understanding and engagement between groups of people.

Dialogue has to be carefully set up: peace makers have to work to understand feelings of participants, who is going to talk first, symbols, suitable places or times, Lord Alderdice added.

He concluded by rejecting the narratives avoiding changes of cultures.

Indeed, he thought that engaging in a peace process involves shifts of attitudes, of ways to engage people, and how to feel about the past and the future.

He welcomed informal ways of engaging people like art or cultural activities.

During Q&A time, he illustrated this by his organisation’s recent sponsoring of a selection of Loyalist bands in a cultural diversity event, Music Unite.

By engaging them with multicultural ways of playing music, they have moved from a singular interest in marching to a broader interest in music and engaging with others.

Finally, Lord Alderdice stressed the importance of dialogue’s stamina, which can survive only if it is institutionalised politically.

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