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There have been truth commissions in many parts of the world: the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is well known to many people; but there have been commissions in Kenya, Peru, Canada, Chad, Chile, Fiji, Germany, Nepal, New Zealand/Aotearoa, Rwanda, South Korea, Uruguay and many others. Different commissions with different rules, scopes, and aims. There have been multi-national commissions, as well as local ones, like the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Commission in the United States.
Truth Commissions are an attempt to reckon with the public side of self: telling the truth about the experiences undergone; the atrocities perpetrated; telling the truth about the circumstances created by policies that fulfilled the functions of overlords and oppressors. Some commissions offer amnesties; others don’t. All of them, however, ask a society to face itself, in dignities and degradations.
One of the lesser-known aspects of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the institutional hearings. Many will have heard — or even read — the testimonies of individuals. But another phase of the commission invited national institutions — churches, corporations, governmental bodies like departments of education — to give testimony to how they had colluded. Their collusion might have been in turning eyes away, by a complicity of silence, by a quiet benefitting from apartheid. Whereas many of the individual testimonies featured harrowing statements from individuals who had lived through hell, these testimonies from institutions were more subtle and, truly, showed the long hard work of self-reckoning.
Such self-reckoning is at the heart of our episodes this week. The ever-brilliant, ever-truthful and ever-hopeful Bryan Stevenson speaks to Krista about his work with the Equal Justice Initiative. Long famed for his book Just Mercy, he has invited wider society to consider that individuals — and societies — are not defined by the worst moments of their lives. A long time legal advocate for people unfairly on death row, people who are mentally ill and incarcerated, and children being tried as adults, he considers how communities can reckon with their own crimes, and in this space not throw stones at each other, but rather find ways to offer mercy. For him, broadening out concepts of justice and mercy are like a muscle, one to be used, improved, practiced, and grown.
The show is filled with stories of Stevenson’s own development as a person, including a memorable encounter with Rosa Parks, and is infused by a determined hopefulness. “I am persuaded that hopelessness is the enemy of justice,” he says, “if we allow ourselves to become hopeless, we become part of the problem.”
In Poetry Unbound, both poets look at the self with compassion and truth. Dilruba Ahmed’s poem “Phase One” places the idea of self-reckoning under a microscope, turning to failures, little and large like leaving the fridge door open, feeling like an inadequate parent, losing luggage. She offers forgiveness to herself over and over. “I forgive you,” she says, “I forgive you, I forgive you.” Zaffar Kunial’s poem “The Word” tells a story of how the son of an immigrant father is embarrassed at his father's grammar. Narrated years later, the poem is filled with regret and poignant reflection. How difficult it can be to reckon with ourselves when we’re caught in a moment of anxiety. Time does its work, and in time, we reckon.
In all your reckonings — in yourself, in your relationships, towns, cities, states and countries — we wish you courage. And hope.
Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound
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This Week at The On Being Project
Our Latest Episode
On Being with Krista Tippett
“Love is the Motive”
Drawing out the spirit and moral imagination of the lawyer and social visionary. “We all need a measure of unmerited grace.”
A poem about the difficulty — and necessity — of self-forgiveness.
A son of Pakistani migrants in Britain recalls how he used to judge his father’s English grammar. Years later, he reflects on the painful energies of adolescence.
Poetry Film: How To
Belong Be Alone
Watch this short film by Leo G Franchi featuring Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poem “How To
Belong Be Alone.”
Listen | A Reflection for Advent by Father James Martin
Advent, the Christian liturgical season of waiting and hoping, is here. Whether or not you identify with this religious tradition, if you are looking for accompaniment in whatever you are waiting for, check out Father Martin’s 3-minute reflection, join @blackliturgies on Instagram for a daily breath prayer, or meditate on artist Scott Erickson’s captivating images in Honest Advent. — Ben Katt, Associate Director, Religious Life & Social Healing
Read | The Conscious Creative by Kelly Small
A resource filled with actionable mindfulness and practical ethics to apply to your creative work. A book I'll keep referring to when I feel like I'm not doing "enough." — Lilian Vo, Associate Art Director
Watch | Healing the Nation
In their first live event, The Progress Network members Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, and Krista discuss what spiritually-based paths we can take to help heal a divided nation after an especially contentious election. Moderated by the founder of the Progress Network, Zachary Karabell. Here's a sneak peek.