My politics have always been informed by a sort of naive idealism. I find it really hard to shake the notion that was embedded in my mind from a young age that people are basically decent, and that the world should basically be a good place. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen that people do not always behave decently, and it’s readily apparent that the world is not a good place. But in my mind, these statements become people do not behave decently because they have not been treated decently themselves, and the world is not yet a good place. I still believe that people are basically good, and that the world (and the rest of the solar system / galaxy / universe… but that’s another blog entirely) has the capacity to sustain humanity in comfort.
TV shows like The West Wing showed me how this idealism can work in “reality”; sometimes compromising, sometimes holding fast, always striving for the best possible world. I remember reading a quote from an Irish politician at their party’s ard fheis (annual conference) which said something like “so and so needs to get off their high horse, they think they’re in an episode of The West Wing or something!”, and it really irked me. In The West Wing, even the opposition are committed public servants standing up for what they believe in. They may be ignorant, curmudgeonly or outright bigoted, but they were never cruel and venal. And our heroes were, for the most part, paragons of virtue; their flaws were that they were paternalistic and arrogant – or, more charitably, they cared too much. To put someone down because they take their obligation to the public too seriously annoyed me to my core.
Why am I talking about this on our volunteering blog? After the fall of Apartheid in South Africa, the country had to decide how to deal with the human rights violations that had been perpetrated. Their solution was The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The name itself tells you almost all that you need to know about it. It’s not about “crimes against humanity”, it’s not a court of justice. The aims of the commission were to find out the truth, and to work towards reconciliation. Healing old wounds is difficult, and this was something that (as far as I’m aware) had never been tried before.
The first time I heard about this, I was floored. Here was a government implementing a solution with no definite outcome – no “guilty” or “innocent” verdict. It wasn’t about vengeance or retribution dressed up as justice, nor was it a PR exercise. It wasn’t going to be an easy solution, either – the truth is often messy, and reconciliation requires understanding and forgiveness. The commission was a bold idea, and its goals were to heal very old wounds so that South Africa could attempt to define itself as a nation after Apartheid; acknowledging what had happened, accepting it, and then moving on, no longer being defined by past trauma, but forging something new.
I am really looking forward to learning more about this – I have a book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu about his recollections of the commission that is next on my “to read” list. I could do that at home, however. I cannot wait to talk to people who lived through this, though. I am aware that there are criticisms of the commission, that it was not perfect, and there are those who would say that it did not successfully complete all of its stated aims. I want to learn about these too, because I want this to be a model for fairness that works.
In my perfect world, the world where humanity is sustained by the Earth and in turn sustains the Earth (and explores space…), there are no courts of law, just groups dedicated to Truth and Reconciliation.