See Profiles or Blog Stories

Saturday, January 11, 2014

From Personal Narratives to a Shared Future

by Amy Belisle
Seamus Farrell speaking

Whether present in conflict or not, we all carry the baggage associated with the conflict which defines the reality of our shared future.  Seamus Farrell has been working to navigate how people remember the past in a manner where the past is not perceived as fact or fiction, but as an individual narrative in order to work towards conflict resolution.  The work Farrell has done in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Zambia, Malawi, Macedonia, and South Africa has facilitated in his role with The Junction “Towards Understanding and Healing” as a facilitator and trainer in the Ethical & Shared Remembering Project

The breadth of experiences Farrell holds helps to focus the lens around how he assists to manage, mediate and resolve conflict in a manner where people are left feeling complete and respected.  He was born and grew up in Northern Ireland; however, his original vocation as a Roman Catholic priest sent him on a journey which challenged and shaped his perspective around the work he does with The Junction.  Farrell spent 25 years in Africa working initially in community development work; during his time in Africa, his focus shifted to conflict resolution.  The context of his work in conflict resolution within Africa was around ethnic diversity, the struggle for resources and the interface between Christianity and Islam in Northern Nigeria.  His work in Africa culminated with an engagement in South Africa, before Nelson Mandela was released from prison.  The work Farrell did in South Africa was addressing conflict within the black community and organizing the leadership within those communities.  Farrell’s involvement was at the request of “church people [leaders]” to assist with the issues of dysfunctional leadership at local levels within the struggle against Apartheid.  

Farrell’s role with the community was to help the members to 
have a better understanding of their social realities, and in the course of building up this understanding of their realities he worked with the people to come to a mutual understanding to begin in the development of democratic leadership.  Farrell’s work was not without personal consequences, in that he was imprisoned in South Africa for political reasons.  Upon his release and forced return to Northern Ireland in 1981, he transferred his efforts to the struggles in Northern Ireland. The experience in South Africa brought Farrell to a self-awareness and an awareness of the need to operate strategically, not just to be busy doing good things.  In operating strategically, one could bring about societal impact – bring about change in reality.   

"The primary victim of conflict is truth." -Seamus Farrell

Through the times of The Troubles, Farrell had a voice which was heard at various levels and across both sides of the conflict, enabling him to be an active participant in the peace process within Northern Ireland.  The nature of his role does not allow for complete disclosure, but his efforts were contributory to bringing about key political arrangements. The work Farrell does with The Junction, in the context of Ethical and Shared Remembering, focuses on dealing with the sectarian narrative of the past in order to bring about a change in Northern Ireland’s reality.  Farrell’s role as a facilitator allows him to work with the people of Northern Ireland who have come to question the assumptions of their own experiences. The facilitated exploration (i.e. shared and ethical remembering) of these assumptions uses education to assist individuals with the many gaps in their understanding through honoring the diversity of perspectives.  

Farrell interacting with faculty and students from Pacific Lutheran University

Ethical and Shared Remembering calls upon those seeking to understand their experiences to take a personal journey where they find themselves being confronted with questions around their assumptions. With Ethical and Shared Remembering, the effort is not about offering a definitive account of events, but rather an account that captures the multiplicity of narratives and perspectives. 

“We run the risk of repeating ourselves unless we can begin to come to an understanding of our multiple narratives and create a future that is different from the one that was completely overwhelmed by a sectarian version of what happened.”
      - Seamus Farrell
In reflecting on his experiences as a facilitator, Farrell characterizes these experiences as incredibly diverse in the context of the circumstances.  Facilitation for Farrell involves a profound respect for what individuals believe about what happened and an appreciation for the openness to see and hear another perspective.  The most fruitful encounters Farrell has experienced in his work have been with diverse groups (i.e. different identities), because the encounters have involved various levels of sharing.  Conversely, those encounters which have been most challenging are those where the individuals are locked into militarized politics as the way to do things.  The justification for these individuals comes from an absolute belief in their version of what happened and the rightness of the militarized politics of the time.  Farrell as a facilitator does not seek to challenge identities; rather he approaches them with a level of sensitivity, and a focus on looking to the future.  With this future oriented perspective, he honors the individual’s right to believe what they believe; with the hope they are willing to reciprocate by allowing the “other” to express their beliefs. 

No comments:

Post a Comment