Healing a nation through apology and reconciliation.
In this the first part of a two-part series, the writer will examine how apology can begin the process of healing the rifts in some of our Caribbean societies caused by partisan politics.
Partisan politics has caused great divides in many of our Caribbean territories. On a daily basis, threats of legal action leveled by One against the Other, talk show propaganda by supporters of One against supporters of the Other and other venomous conduct all contribute significantly to the current hostile political climate. Some readers may ask whether apology is necessary. Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas believe that ‘where one’s sense of right is violated, that person will experience anger.’ They posit that that wrongful act stands as a barrier between people. It fractures their relationship, builds anger and pushes people to demand justice.
In many Caribbean territories the conduct of One political party violates the sense of right of the Other who feels anger and demands justice, Unfortunately, “justice” is accepted as patronage for the party that wins political power and withdrawal of co-operation or sometimes downright obstructionist behavior from the party who has lost power.
Lazare defines an apology as “an encounter between two parties in which one party, the offender, acknowledges responsibility for the offense or grievance and expresses regret or remorse to a second party, the aggrieved.” Donna Hicks in her article, “The Role of Identity Reconstruction in Promoting Reconciliation in Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy and Conflict,” went a bit further by positing that apologies have the ability to shift a victim’s worldview dramatically from blood-lust to forgiveness. Therefore, an apology can potentially begin the process of reconciliation, as it helps to subtract “insult from injury” and provides an opportunity for serious negotiation between parties.
For apology to be effective, the offender must accept personal responsibility for the specific offense and the pain, hurt or humiliation that the offense may have caused. Additionally, the offender must acknowledge his/her role in causing the damage and/ distress to the aggrieved party. Another element of a good apology is that the apology should offer an explanation of what occurred and must describe why the offense happened in the simplest terms possible. Although sincerity is not a criterion, apology effectiveness can be increased if it is genuine or is perceived by the aggrieved party to be genuine. Thus, both the offender and the aggrieved must have a common understanding of the exact substance and nature of the offense, or in some cases, the perceived offense. If the actions of the offender were inexcusable, the offender must relay this to the aggrieved party immediately. Another characteristic of a good apology is the ability of the offender to show remorse. The offender must express regret at what occurred and provide some assurance that the offense will not be repeated.
In Trinidad & Tobago, former Prime Minister Patrick Manning apologized in January, 2012, eighteen months after being voted out of office, to those whom he may have “hurt or disenfranchised” while he served as head of government. However, one of the main criticisms of Manning’s apology was that it was unclear to whom he was apologizing. Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday commented that, “The people you are apologizing to must know who they are. I would think he should make that clear.”
In comparison, on February 13, 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had apologized for the hurt caused to indigenous Australians by decades of state-sponsored mal-treatment. His apology, unlike Manning’s, encompassed most, if not all the elements of a good apology. On behalf of the non-indigenous Australians, the Prime Minister accepted responsibility for the offense. He was specific about what he was apologizing for and to whom the apology was targeted. Moreover, in the apology, he showed remorse for the actions of his non-indigenous predecessors and offered an explanation of what occurred. Of his apology, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that ‘the most important thing is the sorry. The most important thing is the national emotional response.’ The article continued by stating that, “It was very moving to see a Prime Minister with a bit of heart.”
The author therefore suggests that political leaders in the Caribbean first need to admit that “slash and burn” campaigning has polarized their small societies to an extent where it is becoming increasingly difficult to govern effectively whether a majority of seats has been won by the party in power or not. Then, they need to admit that some of the things which have been said and done on the campaign trail may have hurt the Other. Finally, they need to recognize that to heal these hurts they must apologize for having caused them and, in that regard, ought to be guided by Kevin Rudd’s example in ensuring that their apology has all the ingredients to make it effective.
In the second part of this series, the writer will turn her attention to the concept of forgiveness and will outline an approach to reconciliation which, in the opinion of the writer, will build on the apology suggested above and allow Caribbean political leaders, those in power as well as those in opposition, to provide effective governance.