A DIFFERENT BEAT
Volume 13 Number 4
Apology Comes from Within
01 August 2000
The most productive and radical approach is to address what we can deal with and take responsibility for.
I was recently asked why I seem to blame white people in my book, Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate. I must admit that it was a new thought to me that I did. But as I pondered it was clear to me why a reader could form this impression.
My philosophy of life is simple. It is that if you want to bring an answer in the world the best place to start is with yourself and your kind, whether it is your race or your country or your creed; that very little is achieved, except to put their backs up, by pointing the finger of blame at people of backgrounds different from your own.
When I write about Ireland I write from the perspective of what we Anglo-Irish and English have to make amends for.
When I write as a Christian I recognize the many sins of omission and commission of Christians through the ages, sins the Pope has so challengingly reminded us of.
And when I write as a white man I am very conscious of what people of colour have had to suffer as a result of our attitudes over centuries.
None of this is to say that others are blameless or that I excuse or minimize wrongs that they have done. Or that I lack vision for the rebuilding role that people like me are meant to have. But if I am writing about forgiveness and repentance I know where I should start.
I hope that, if a person of colour or an Irish Catholic or a Muslim or an American or a Russian were to write a book with the same themes, they would start from the point of view of where their people have erred. I believe that all of us are equally loved by God and have the same potential for grace. Therefore the most productive and radical approach is to address what we can deal with and take responsibility for.
I came to this view more than 50 years ago when I first attended MRA conferences at Caux, Switzerland. This was soon after World War II when the wounds were still raw and at most international conferences the blame for that terrible period was being thrown around liberally. Germans and Japanese said that Caux was the first post-war conference centre where they were welcomed as equals.
I do not remember the Germans and Japanese standing in the dock at sessions in Caux. Nor for that matter the British nor the Americans. Just as in succeeding years I don't recall white South Africans being taxed with their sins. There may have been an occasional outburst of bitterness on the part of someone who was for the first time confronted with people who had done them immense harm. But the emphasis was always on each person starting with him or herself. Again and again that personal example inspired others to dare to accept the same starting point.
The result was that probably more Germans and Japanese faced up to their own and their countries' sins, more British conceded how badly they had treated Germany after World War I, more Americans exhibited an infectious humility, than at any other place on the globe. As a white South African said in effect, echoing the experience of others, 'Everywhere I have been people have pointed the finger at my country and I have resisted. Here no one did and I changed.' An American political figure attending such a conference was puzzled at first by the atmosphere and then realized, she said, that she was overwhelmed by the absence of blame.
MRA does not say that white Americans must apologize to African Americans for slavery nor white Australians to Aborigines for the way they have been treated nor that African Americans or Aborigines should forgive white people. Many people have apologized and many have forgiven, and they and others have been blessed by their acts and attitudes. It was not a matter of political correctness imposed from without but of a moral imperative accepted from within. MRA, like Jiminy Cricket, says, 'Let your conscience be your guide.'
And there is no colour to conscience.