True Justice is not about punishment, but restoration and rehabilitation. Marietta Jaeger
And before that restoration of spirit begins, first perhaps, there has to be acceptance – at the very least of the act that occurred. If we continue to carry the emotional charge around the event that occurred, then perhaps we can never really create the space in which our own healing can begin.
Compassion and forgiveness are spoken of often enough – acting out compassion and forgiveness is another thing altogether. It means that first and foremost, I need to accept things as they have come about to be – and this means reconciling myself to the acceptance of loss – whether it is the loss of a loved one, or of my possessions, or of my dignity, or my health. This is a great challenge, because I would have to ask myself how I will now live without that which was important to me.
Once I can accept that life from this moment is going to be irrevocably different for me, and once I can start to come around to what that will mean for me, perhaps this is the point when I can now start to look at the occurrence from a different perspective.
And this is perhaps the first inclination towards forgiveness – Neale Donald Walsh writes that in forgiving someone, we are saying to them “thank you for-giving me this experience”. This may hard for some to swallow – after all, how could one possibly thank the murderer of a loved one for giving them the experience of heart-wrenching loss, and for taking that person away from them forever?!
But I would say that in doing this, we are not going as far as thanking the perpetrator in saying this – what we are doing, perhaps, is to shift our perspective and to accept that at this stage, what has happened has happened, and neither hell nor high water can change that. It’s tough to do that. Gratitude for an experience can take a long while to come about – it is only with hindsight that our vision is 20-20 – it is only after the fact, and maybe a long while after the fact, after we have learned various lessons associated with the experience, or after perhaps we have grown from the experience, that we can look back and perhaps start to introduce gratitude for what we have gone through.
Some are able to do this better than others – some will succumb to the pain of the experience in such a way, that it is only the imbibing of substances that will help them take their attention away from the pain – and sometimes, this is the only means that they will ever use to help them cope.
But there are some that will, in a moment of surrender, take a moment to pause, and to open their hearts a little wider.
It is in doing this, I believe, that we start to create the space for compassion – that all-healing, alchemising vibration that literally, in and of itself, starts to melt away the lower vibrations of anger, and pain, and indignation, and humiliation.
Perhaps in coming into acceptance, we are reconciling ourselves with a little of Truth – in facing our demons, we acknowledge them and we recognize them for what they are. We recognize that an ‘injustice’ has been brought about; a loss of dignity has come about. It is perhaps at this juncture, that we can also realize, that we have a choice with regards to what we can do next.
If I live for ‘an eye for an eye’, I may demand at this stage that the one who has harmed me be put through the same level of pain that s/he brought about to me. I may feel at this stage, that in doing so, I am ‘taking responsibility’ to ensure that the perpetrator is also ‘held responsible’ for his / her act. This is the premise that the death penalty is based on. It would be interesting to know just how many witnesses to executions feel genuinely redeemed or ‘better’ after having watched the killer ‘put to sleep’.
I could, on the other hand, realize that having this person killed will not ultimately take the sting of my loss away – my anger will abate, but chances are, I will not feel any less wretched. In this instance, I will embark on an entirely different process – an introspective one, where I will have to make peace with my pain in an entirely different way. And this is perhaps where forgiveness starts to seep in – in attempting to understand in a small way the who and the how and the why, and then perhaps, with ultimate grace, forgiveness of myself, and of my own sense of wretchedness.
On the notion of Justice, there is a very interesting story I came across. In the absence of anthropological details and fact, I will relay it as a story:
There is tribe that exists in some part of the world, which has a unique manner in which the members mete out Justice to one of their own that that has killed another. They tie up the person’s arms and legs, put him into a sack, dump him into a boat which as a small hole in it, and they push the boat out into the furthest and deepest part of the village pond.
The rules are this: All in the village must come to witness the punishment. All in the village must stay and watch the entire process unfold, no matter how traumatic it gets. As the boat starts to sink, and as the water fills up the boat, and as the perpetrator starts to struggle, and to drown, it is ONLY the family of the victim that is allowed to take any further steps – they can therefore let the person drown in front of them, or decide to swim out and rescue him/her.
One may argue that in contemporary society, we can’t possibly all start using ponds and sacks to bring about justice – but consider this – even the families of the victims who are allowed to witness executions, are shrouded from the ultimate horror of watching someone die a long and painful death in front of them – we’ve developed the lethal injection and the more horrible but efficient electric chair to ensure a ‘quick exit’.
I believe that if we truly honest without selves, and if we were to engage with more compassion in our systems of jurisprudence, then perhaps we would be willing to let go of our own sense of vindication, which often takes precedence over anything else, and substitute punishment for a more reconciliatory and rehabilitative approach.
In Kenya, we are currently grappling between sending our post-election violence perpetrators to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and subjecting them to the enquiries of a local Truth and Justice & Reconciliation Commission.
Well, if they are willing to look into the eyes of the people whose lives they have destroyed, and in the interest of Truth, completely come clean and describe in detail how they set about planning the violent and horrific death of the loved one of the person they are sitting in front of, then perhaps we can allow the person they have harmed to decide whether s/he is going to going to let them sink, or swim. But Reconciliation can only come about if we are prepared to face our demons with the greatest of courage, find the magnanimity of Spirit to initiate the process of Forgiveness, and engage with each in the most authentic manner possible.
Anything less, will Just not do (pun intended).
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