Transforming Broken Relationships: Making Peace with The Past

REVIEWS, 3 Oct 2016

René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

René WadlowMark Salter and Zahbia Yousuf (Eds) Transforming broken relationships: Making Peace with the Past (London: Conciliation Resources, 2016)

1 Oct 2016 – The term “reconciliation” is used in different ways when dealing with conflicts between individuals, groups, or States. When dealing with armed conflicts, the term reconciliation is often used as a necessary process after the end of the armed conflict phase, as a form of healing so that the armed conflict will not start up again and that recognition be given to past suffering.

However, reconciliation is necessary at different stages of a conflict:

  1. At the first signs of tensions where armed violence is potential but not inevitable. There may be a possibility to return to “normal” and an effort made to work on the causes of the tensions.
  2. During the armed conflict, as a step to deescalate the violence with temporary ceasefires, efforts to open doors to negotiations in good faith and often to widen the circle of parties involved, to make new voices heard.
  3. Currently, the term is most used to deal with a situation when the armed conflict has stopped, often with a formal peace agreement.  Often the term is used as part of a transitional justice process or dealing primarily with psychological issues of personal or group trauma.

Somewhat along the lines of the Transcend University Press book Reconciliation: Clearing the Past, Building the Future, the Conciliation Resources builds on case studies of conflicts it has studied and published in its Accord series. Here, there is analysis and reflection on four conflicts at different stages of resolution: the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, Colombia, Mindanao-Philippines, and Northern Ireland. In each situation, there is a need to create social trust and transforming damaged relationships, a process of reweaving the social fabric. Such efforts are multi-faceted, and there is no “one shape fits all” possibility.

Nevertheless, there are, I believe, common elements that can be structured around two themes – myths and rituals. There has just been signed a peace agreement in Colombia so we will be able to follow the reconciliation process and difficulties in real time.  As David Bloomfield writes in the concluding reflections on these four case studies,

Reconciliation is about rebuilding broken relations and relationships. If that sounds soft, or non-contentious, it most certainly is not…Reconciliation is the process of rebuilding damaged relations, without which society will not function properly again in any of its dimensions: politics, social interaction, justice, economy, education – everything. It means dealing with the past to construct an agreed future. This involves examining past relations and behaviors, acknowledging them and their consequences, and coming to terms with them and with each other in such a way as to share new relations for that agreed future…The past is a central dimension of reconciliation. But reconciliation is essentially about the future: moving from a divided past towards a shared future. And so it means, at its core, building relations for the future.”

The divided past is the major character of the Piscean Period symbolized by the two fish swimming in opposite directions. The astrological age is of some 2000 years, and the Piscean Period is usually dated with the birth of Jesus. Thus we are now in a unique time in the history of the earth: a new cosmic cycle – the Age of Aquarius – is just beginning. Consequently, enormous changes in every area of life will take place. Above all, a great change in consciousness will gradually unfold, a shift in the spiritual development of humanity. The attitudes, institutions and policies that were adequate and appropriate for the Piscean Period are now outdated and fast fading as we move into the Age of Aquarius. At the start of the Age of Aquarius, the crystalized conflicts of the Piscean Period are more open to being resolved.

But as Sri Aurobindo has said “The end of a stage of evolution is usually marked by a powerful recrudescence of all that has to go out of evolution” such as narrow nationalism and sectarian religious divisions. The State with its sharp frontiers, “here is us, over there is them” is now giving way to a flow, overlapping responsibilities as among the European Union, the national States, and the local authorities with a goal-based emphasis on tasks to be accomplished. Yet we see the “powerful recrudescence of all that has to go out of evolution” with the break up of the Yugoslav federation into new States or the Georgian-Abkhaz division. These are the “last roses of summer “ – the harsh colors of a sun set.

Likewise, the two ideological-religious movements of the Piscean Period, Christianity often linked to the birth of Jesus, and the later Piscean Period ideology, Islam, are fast fading with the shift from external revelation to a philosophy of the Inner Light, the Higher Self, the Kingdom of God is within. Yet we also see the sharp colors of the sun set with the revival of narrow religious movements. These will be short-lived but can be strong in the moment. The passage to the Age of Aquarius is conditioned by the way in which the previous age – the Piscean Period – is released: whether gently or violently, with compassion or animosity, with courage or fear.

Thus “clearing the past” and reconciliation require explaining to all those caught up in the divisions of the past that the actions and suffering of the past were part of a larger and longer astrological cycle, but that the cycle is now over. One must bless the past for the good it did, for the ideas it brought, but that its time is now over. As winter moves into spring in the yearly cycle, we move into a new 2000-year cosmic cycle, and we leave behind the past as the tree drops its old leaves for the new.

It is useful to develop new rituals to symbolize the new Aquarian Age. Aquarius has the image of pouring water for all. Thus Aquarian rituals will concern the flow of water or the pouring of water to give new life. This symbolism would lend itself to a ritual of tree-planting among formerly divided groups. The image of the roots, branches, and leaves of a tree have been used in the past, a symbol of the tree of life, rooted in the earth, its leaves turned toward the sun and heaven. The pouring of water on a newly-planted tree can serve as a ritual of this symbolism. Tree-panting is also useful to limit global warming so it is of value even for those who do not believe in astrological cycles.

There are different approaches to reconciliation, and I did not see any guides to the Age of Aquarius in the bibliography, but I am sure that this Conciliation Resources study will be of use and will encourage those who have not read the original case studies to do so.


René Wadlow, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and of its Task Force on the Middle East, is president and U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens and editor of Transnational Perspectives. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Oct 2016.

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