Monday, February 16, 2009

Musings: Forgive and Forget?

The moon was a perfect white half on a canvas of twinkling stars when Koko and I went walking this morning. Clouds shaped like running rabbits and other indistinguishable forms cruised around the edges of the sky and bunched up over Waialeale.

As it grew lighter, I made out the shape of my neighbor Andy, with two dogs, and we all walked together for a while, talking about the annoying way that cats have of meowing loudly to be fed, which is why Andy was out so early, and the average life expectancy of pre-contact Hawaiians (about 30), before touching briefly on GMOs as the sky blushed pink and we parted ways.

I’ve been thinking about parting ways, and the process of reconciliation, while following a recent email thread about last month’s Hookuikahi-Reconciliation events, an annual observation tied into America’s illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. The discussion, joined by those who are Native Hawaiian, and those who are not, delved into the role that forgiveness plays in the process of reconciliation, while raising such questions as: Should Hawaiians forgive? Can they? And what is the best thing for our community's common good?

The dialogue was prompted by Kahu Kaleo Patterson distributing an essay written by Kahu Teruo Kawata, who was reflecting on these weighty questions: Can there be reconciliation without forgiveness? Can there be reconciliation without justice? Can there be reconciliation without repentance? Kawata wrote:

P.W. Botha President of South Africa who presided over the apartheid policies never repented, never apologized. He called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission a circus. Thurston Twigg-Smith has rejected any idea that his ancestors did anything wrong in the overthrow of the Queen. And how about the rapist and the murderer who do not repent. Is there no possibility of reconciliation?

That prompted another person to respond:

Since forgiveness is for the individual's own good and requires no reconciliation or restitution, it is something we can all do to recognize that the past is gone, but we can still come together in the present without resentment, so that we can move forward together for a better future for all.

And that got someone else wondering:

If we accept that the past is "gone", then what is there to reconcile? From what place and which experiences do we bring forth the notion of "common good" and apply it to a world that is indifferent to its beginnings in an effort to foster forgiveness and a better future?

Which led to this observation:

While the past is gone, the present is still here and needs to be dealt with fairly and properly. I don't think we go numb to the need for justice and reconciliation now, simply because we treat the past as gone and don't act out of our emotions of anger and bitterness over what's over.

Kaleo weighed in with:

How does forgiveness rebuild community.... How does forgiveness grant permission to be angry about ongoing injustices... In regards to historical wrongs, what if they continue to persist... Ceded lands, burial desecration, racism, colonization..... How can one forgive the rapist, when the rape continued... When it has become the cultural violence of the day...

That elicited this response:

Sometimes anger and passionate demands for payback are appropriate. But usually when they come many years later, they are counter productive to a true solution. Certainly if the goal is for both parties to Ho'Opono and work together in Lokahi for the common good, it is better to eliminate elements of anger and revenge and for the injured party to seek appropriate restitution from a place of fairness, rather than anger.

Forgiveness doesn't eliminate, negate, or minimize the offense, it just allows efforts at rectification to move forward from a different energy space. And again, I assert that the person who is hurt by retaining the anger is the one who won't forgive.

Which led to this:

At the risk of oversimplifying the definition, one of the primary definitions of ho'oponopono is to "make right” which is very different than "fixing wrong." By approaching the situation from the “to make right, proper or correct” angle, “making right” becomes the focus with an intention to create conditions that are peaceful, in rhythm and in balance. Rather than bring the elephant into the room and spend the remainder of the time trying to get it out of the room, the alternative calls for focus on a room where the preferred condition exists, absent of elephants! Don’t call the beast and you won’t have to kill it when it arrives!

While difficult, I think it is possible to seek justice, recompense and restitution in the absence of anger and or hate. But in the absence of forgiveness, is there any justice or restitution that can ever be achieved that frees future generations from anger, hurt, despair, “dis-ease” and loss? Is it “fair” to ask grandchildren who no longer have the benefit of their inheritance to forgive the descendants of those responsible for the theft, especially when those robbed are asked to forgive those who continue to benefit from their stolen goods [and] are seeking “forgiveness” and reconciliation but offer no recompense or repentance? Saying “I am sorry” doesn’t remedy damages anymore than extending forgiveness releases a person from accountability or responsibility for their actions.

Clearly this is not and should not be just an issue for or about Hawaiians? It speaks to a human condition, a condition that I think anyone that has been harmed politically, socially, economically, spiritually etc., seeks to remedy. In simple terms, does forgiveness make people whole? In the case of Hawaiians when if ever will forgiveness make them whole again? Is that an unrealistic expectation on their part or on ours collectively? Will Hawaiians stop appearing at the top of all of the wrong lists or will they just feel better about being there?

With the Akaka Bill and the ownership of Hawaii's "ceded lands" now being debated, these are questions that deserve deep consideration, and beg some sort of answer. Surely we can all agree that a wrong was committed in 1893. Now how do we set things right?


Anonymous said...

at a minimum, the navy broke its own protocols RE going on shore (an intimidating act, no matter how you execute it, the possible consequences of which were or should have been foreseeable)

at a maximum, some guys in hawaii who were still US citizens shopped around an overthrow plan in DC...but how it was received and by whom and what the ramifications were is a little more foggy...tho to claim nothing ever came of those efforts...strikes me as wishful thinking. if i were OHA in court, id be focusing in on that angle and the records / documents supporting it

Anonymous said...

i suppose it would just be wishful thinking that the lack of subsequent posts means agreement on the range i described :)