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Truth and Reconciliation

by Decker Ngongang

April 8,2009

Solutions aren’t enough.

So much anger surrounds the financial crisis our country is in, directed at Wall Street bankers, at people who bought the houses with subprime loans, to the politicians who were seemingly oblivious to it all. In a community like Charlotte that anger grows with each round of layoffs at the banks or with each reading of the high salaries of executives in our community. We all know someone who has been directly affected or we ourselves have suffered in some way. 

The effects of this economy are being felt by all of us, and the anger out here is real. It is affecting the perspectives we have of each other. In the same breath that we aim to solve this financial crisis, we continue to use the rhetoric of anger and retribution that will prevent us from the truth, reconciliation and culture change that is necessary to not only recover from this crisis but also to learn from it. 

Living in Washington DC, I am able to attend or be privy to so many amazing events and forums. Last week, a new friend, Juan Mora, who runs a communications firm in Miami, invited me to the Americas Business Council Reconciliation Forum. During this conference, we discussed the concept of reconciliation and the role it has played in recovery after some of the world’s greatest atrocities. We learned how it can provide strategies for resolving and healing the world’s most difficult conflicts, especially in an increasingly connected world. 

During the conference I was able to meet Frank Meeink, a young man who as a former neo-Nazi member was the inspiration for the controversial movie American History X; I met former NBA player Manute Bol, who educated me on the intricacies of the violence in Sudan and the 90 family members he had lost to violence; and I met Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone. 

Each told me their stories of violence, betrayal and redemption,. Each without skipping a breath told me about their perspective on reconciliation and that the solution to their tragedy wasn’t just in stopping the violence or rage, but in learning and growing from it. 

In Charlotte, and here in DC where things take on international significance, it is important that we pay attention to not only solving the problems of the economy, but focus as well on how we heal wounds of anger in our communities. 

This will happen only when the discussions about “what happened” aren’t pointing fingers, but in a balanced and intentional way engage a strategy employing truth, accountability and forgiveness to move forward.

The anger that helps us get by today will not be a sustainable force that will help us overcome and make better decisions and a culture for future generations. We must be willing to place forgiveness in the same conversation as truth, accountability and punishment, and to do that takes new political and community maturity, and a culture change by us all. 

Desmond Tutu said, “True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness, which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has to be based on an acknowledgment of what was done wrong, and therefore on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know.” 

The process of truth and reconciliation starts with conversations, not indictments. To understand the crimes, misdeeds and mistakes that got us here we have to engage the perpetrators – all of us – in a process of healing that lays bare the ills and makes a way for all of us to participate in their correction and rebuilding. Our actions and the new culture we must create after this far reaching crisis will be important for they will set the context for how my generation and your children’s generation either repeat these problems or learn and help our communities’ progress. 

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