Reconciling Accountability and Forgiveness

By Steve Beckow, Golden Age of Gaia

How does one hold accountability and forgiveness in the same heart without going mad? (1)

They seem poles apart.

But they’re not.

Truth and reconciliation (forgiveness) are both phases of Accountability. Both are necessary if peace is to be established without a festering residue.

To assist the victims of human-rights abuses, war crimes, rape, etc., to achieve closure, the victims must be heard first, before reconciliation is likely to take place or what reconciliation is achieved may not be deep or lasting.

I know how much people want to be heard as a result of an experience I had as a Sociology grad student.

I wanted to be a counsellor and so, to test the waters, I offered to do voluntary counseling for my friends.

I followed Jay Haley’s Problem-Solving Therapy. I was offering people my grand solutions … but no one was buying them.

When I suggested a solution, people would look at me as if I was daft and then continue telling their stories. Didn’t I see they wanted me to listen?

Finally, seeing that I was selling nothing they wanted, I stopped hawking my wares (solutions) and began to listen.

And I listened and I listened. When people had either completely told their story or hit on the missing piece, the issue or upset usually disappeared. I had achieved the result I wanted, not by offering solutions, but by listening.

And I discovered that what many if not most people in circumstances of conflict or trauma want above everything else (but love) is to be heard, to be understood, to have their version of events accepted and validated.

I expect it’ll prove to be the same in regard to healing the world’s trauma. Before anyone is willing to consider reconciliation, they’ll need to feel heard.

That doesn’t mean that everything is on standby until everyone is heard. Some actors on the world stage may already be complete with the communication phase and ready for the reconciliation phase.

Some sectors, some organizations, some communities may also be ready. Everything will go on simultaneously, some people being heard while others are reconciling.

Nonetheless it is challenging to contemplate forgiving everything when you’re following accountability events.

I still have not reconciled the two paradigms completely. There’s still a tad of dissonance which I’ll continue to look at and process.


(1) I’m reminded of past discussions of justice and mercy.


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