Sunday, 28 March 2010

Forgiveness in systems

Recently I found myself talking about how for trust to be developed people need to face up to what has happened in the past, learn to say sorry and also try to explain. I thought about this again as I watched a programme about Desmond Tutu on truth and reconciliation. So I eneded up looking at things that have been written on forgiveness in systems. I was fascinated to discover that forgiveness in systems is a concept in social system design and computing. I think I rather like the idea of a forgiving computer system!
Without forgiveness it is hard for individuals groups or systems to more forwards, hard to work for the future without being disproportionately weighed down by the past. I've seen this at work in local churches, families, workplaces and communities. It is never easy to say sorry, yet without it things get stuck and forgiveness cannot even begin. It is long term hard work, yet without it community cannot be built on decent foundations.
Anyway below are some quotes I found helpful and thought-provoking from one of the other things I came across in my internet browsing on forgiveness in systems from "On the Systems Intelligence of Forgiveness" by Laila Seppä. The article particularly uses the South African truth and reconciliation commission as an example but also looks at individuals like Corrie ten Boom and Coretta Scott King who have come to and then worked at deep understanding of forgiveness. A reminder that for systems to change and become more just it is important for individuals to find prophetic voice.

Miraculously, even when confronted with extreme oppression, there are those very special

individuals who do not submit to it. They have the vision of something better and the willpower to go against the current, which often demands courage. Usually they have to work inside the system, but fortunately they are strong enough to resist.

Systems intelligence is based on a principle of humbleness and optimism for change, which
acknowledges that one’s perspective of others might be drastically mistaken (Hämäläinen and
Saarinen 2006). Beliefs regarding structures produce behaviour and people’s behaviour often
reflects their best guesses of rational behaviour. They can get caught in systems that serve
nobody’s interest and feel helpless regarding their possibilities of changing the system, in this
case apartheid (Saarinen and Hämäläinen 2004). They can even conceal their real thoughts
because they are part of the system of holding back, which means that many of the core beliefs of people do not show up in their action (Hämäläinen and Saarinen
2006). People can feel insecure and as heretics and dissidents are despised by the system they are too frightened to speak up (Tutu 1999, Nouwen 2005, Varto 2005)

To forgive does not mean that you have to forget. It is not hypocrisy and turning your blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the truth (Tutu 1999). It means telling what happened, talking about it. Trying to forget by sweeping the past under the carpet means you get trapped with your past. A much better way is to express your hurt: “I will carry the memory of what you have done with me. I will not forget but I refuse to let what you have done stand between us. I refuse to allow it to create a permanent barrier between us. I still want you in my life.” (Carpenter 1998).