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Friday, January 10, 2014

Towards Understanding and Healing

  By: Sarah Sinese

The residents of Derry and surrounding areas are making strides towards peace, but formal organizations in the area like The Junction act as facilitators in the process. Formed in March 2000, the center provides resources for those people both directly and indirectly involved with The Troubles. The mission is to provide a safe space for storytelling and listening between individuals who come from differing backgrounds. In essence, they are cultivating a speech setting as ideal as possible to promote dialogue. Inside dialogue, there must be equality regardless of the inequality that may be present externally. Often names and official titles may be indicative of power struggles or group identity, as is the case with the divisive Catholic/Republican and Protestant/Unionist parties. In order to participate in the Towards Understanding and Healing discussions, one must come to the group as an individual rather than a political representative. Often during the dialogic process, construction of new facets of identity take place as individuals come to realize their roles in history and how they have affected others.

Both Eamonn and John from The Junction presented several strategies to the group which they recurrently incorporate into events with individuals from the community. Emphasis is placed on listening accompanied by empathy. An exercise was carried out in order to examine feelings which surface when one is not listened to, like anger. Often this leads to the emergence of a reactive self. When the Catholic population’s voice was silenced during the initial inquiries in relation to the events of Bloody Sunday, the result was violence as demonstrated in the 1972 Aldershot Bombing when the IRA (Irish Republican Army) targeted the headquarters of the British Army’s 16th Parachute Brigade. Therefore, it is important that everyone’s story is heard if they are ready and willing to do so.

The main strategy employed by facilitators of this organization is the use of beads in order to tell one’s life story, which is where the role of empathy is illuminated. This peacebuilding method is adopted from South Africa, illustrating how different countries can assist one another when facing similar issues. Eamonn and John both said that the last thing people dealing with hardship need is sympathy. Each person finds beads which speak to them and symbolize significant events in their life in order to build their own bracelet. Upon reconvening with the group, each person shares the significance of their beads. It is through this sharing that a common ground is established. Although we are all as unique as the beads we choose, we are connected by the common threads of humanity such as loss, grief, family, love, etc. After sharing one’s story, Eamonn and John asked each individual if it was okay to allow others to ask questions. When we question the text we receive and are questioned by the text we express, understanding is reciprocal. The end goal of these types of processes are that each stakeholder gains as well as those with whom they are associated. The power of these events is demonstrated when individuals who come to these meetings as enemies are transformed into friends and may even decide to act as facilitators in future events.

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