Dec 29, 2008

Lifestyle - Buildling bridges (V.G.Read)


Painful memories, unless healed, fuel conflict from one generation to another.

In response to “The Healing Touch”, Mr. S pointed out that, “No matter how long it has been, the memory of some injustices and hurts just remain and cannot be healed.” He was referring to the pain and brutality he had seen and endured during a period of terrible violence. “You cannot imagine the number of people who were killed. Why? Just because they were of another community or in the wrong place. I can never, never forget this.”

His son joins our conversation. The children have a different perspective of that time. Homes without parents; becoming adult before their time; keeping vigil at night; wiping tears off the faces of women; living with fear and anger. There is another generation that looks at their pain, listens to their words and carries the injustices done to them in their hearts. This kind of memory, painful as it is, is destructive; if it is not healed, for it fuels conflict from one generation to another.

How do we who have not had such experiences help heal those with such sad, angry memories and gently take away the poison that could infect another generation? Perhaps we may think that this is not our concern, but in an ahimsa-based society, it is the concern of every individual to bring wholeness and peace to those who are broken. Memory tells us who our enemies are today and what they have done to us or our loved ones in the past. Memory holds dangerous power to stir up hatred and desire for revenge. History gradually shapes us into “us and them.” The onus is on us to teach our children stories of peace and peace making, rather than just ones of hatred, violence, war and war mongering.

Ingrained prejudices

I remember a visit to Northern Ireland as part of a Peace Consultation. We were talking to children on one side of the wall that divided Belfast. We asked one group, “Would you like to play with those children on the other side?” “Never,” came the vehement reply. “Why not?” “Cos they smell like pigs.” Aghast, we continued our questions. “Have you ever been near them? No “Have you ever smelt a pig?” No “Then how do you know what they smell like?” “Because my mother says so.” That encounter taught me about how we are responsible for shaping the future and the minds of the next generation.

All around the world, in families and communities, hate is carried down generations without anyone being really aware of what the conflict has been about. Sometimes there is a right time, to find out the truth, apologise and put an end to it, so that a new generation can begin without the baggage of the past.

If we follow the ahimsa way, we have to take a new look at words which are not very fashionable today — words like reconciliation, forgiveness, and pardon. We need to study and discuss what these words really mean and how we can make them a reality in our lives. Ahimsa people, though wounded deeply, need to become healed people who show others the way forward. To heal, ahimsa words like reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, truth, justice and pardon need to come alive.

Two brothers both farmers worked in nearby plots sharing their machinery and workers. One day a small misunderstanding ruined the relationship. One day a young carpenter came looking for work. The elder brother was happy. “I’m glad you came to me first,” he said. “I want you to build me a huge fence, so that my brother cannot look over it and see what I am growing.” He was going to be away for a few days, but looked forward to seeing the fence on his return. When he returned, he saw instead, a beautiful bridge that connected his land to his brother’s. Angrily he started to walk across the bridge. But the other brother thought that his brother had forgiven him. So he took his brother’s favourite cookies and ran across the bridge to meet him and told him how much he had missed him and how sorry he was for allowing the misunderstanding to grow.

Ahimsa people need to be bridge builders. We have to keep our eyes open to see who needs “bridges” and help build them.

If you are a bridge builder, peace maker, or follow the ahimsa way of life and wish to share your story, please write to the author at or

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