Reconcile with ourselves

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Reconciliation | Photo by Ben Sutherland via Commons/Flickr CC 2.0

I heard one presidential candidate announce that he will advocate reconciliation should he win. I agree; all Filipinos should move to reconcile with one another no matter who wins. After the toxic divisiveness of the last five years, the sound of a reconciled society does sound like an angelic song.

At the same time, to make reconciliation meaningful and long-lasting, it is not a matter of us shaking each other’s hands. It does not happen that way, except if it is only for photo ops. When persons differ with their fundamental values and belief systems, the next conflict is only an issue away. Reconciliation, then, must begin with those at odds agreeing to fundamental parameters.

In the intangibles, in motherhood statements, it is easy to agree. Freedom, democracy, justice, peace, prosperity, a future full of hope. With these, we can quickly hug each other as brothers and sisters under one flag. So let us not go and overstate the obvious anymore. Let us take all these for granted.

Instead, let us go where the probability of conflict can start, so any reconciliation becomes possible beyond fake smiles and cold handshakes. What upsets us? What can push us to disagree badly enough to draw battle lines? These areas or issues are where we should begin to pay attention. They can be complicated and contentious. With them, we test our resolve to reconcile.

Being human with both needs at the primal level and rosy dreams for the future, let us avoid what harms us in body and soul. When we can agree not to do what is harmful, we save ourselves many fights down the line. So let us list down simple acts that can harm us.

“Instead, let us go where the probability of conflict can start, so any reconciliation becomes possible beyond fake smiles and cold handshakes. What upsets us? What can push us to disagree badly enough to draw battle lines? These areas or issues are where we should begin to pay attention.”

Killing. Can we agree that killing is an act that prejudices the victim, his family, and perhaps, even his community? If we do not want to get killed, our family members or neighbors, maybe we can put killing at the top of our list of the most unacceptable actions to do.

Stealing. Can we agree that stealing is an act that prejudices the victim, that it is wrong to take without knowledge or consent of the owner, that which rightfully belongs to them? Can we agree that stealing another’s material possessions, whether money, land, house, clothes, food or other items of value, is wrong and extends its damage beyond just its victims? Can we agree that we cannot maintain order or a peaceful way of life if stealing were tolerated? With killing, can we then add stealing as unacceptable to our common good?

Lying. Can we agree that lying is destructive to persons, to the community, or common understanding? Our agreements have to be commonly understood and commonly complied with. Lying fractures or distorts common understanding or agreement, and it can be personal or collective. When we do not understand something in common, we can then never agree on anything. Lying destroys relationships and erodes the very basis of understanding.

Grounding ourselves on shared values or understanding is fundamental to societal life’s survival. Without that, it will be a superior force over others, the strong over the weak, chaos over order. The era of the alpha ape, the caveman, the Neanderthals, and the bloodthirsty savage is over.

Or, if it is not, then we can agree to be barbarians again and forget all common sense and common order. That way, those who survive the carnage can then begin to sit down again and discuss possibilities. Most of all, we agree not to tolerate killing, stealing, and lying.

“Grounding ourselves on shared values or understanding is fundamental to societal life’s survival. Without that, it will be a superior force over others, the strong over the weak, chaos over order.”

Only when there is so much blood spilled do people often come to their senses? In many societies whose members had become so fractured and antagonistic with one another, especially if two competitive sides can never get along and drag everyone else with them, civil wars had been the final judge. They had been fighting ahead because of partisanship. Not with principles they share, but with the choice of personalities to follow.

Following personalities had become important enough for good people to turn bad, honest people to turn liars, and peaceful people to turn violent. Worst of all, intelligent people turn stupid.

Reconciliation starts among partisans again choosing to agree, not to be friends with one another, but to be loyal to what is very important to them. Not to kill, not to steal, not to lie. When feuding parties decide that protecting life is more important than killing it, that keeping and enjoying one’s possessions is more important than having it stolen, that accepting reality is more important than denying or distorting it, that is reconciliation.

“There is no other reconciliation, by the way. Any different kind is simple politicking, insidious sugarcoating exploiting the exasperation and frustration of the poor about the greedy, ambitious, and powerful warring parties.”

Because people live and then die because personalities come and then go, but life stays, in our children and grandchildren and more generations to come. Because possessions remain essential to those, who own them, whoever the owners may be. Because reality becomes history, therefore, it becomes the basis of our identity. What is more important is what can be more permanent and beneficial to many communities and society, and we would do well to reconcile with that.

Reconciling with personalities becomes natural and more manageable when we have not killed one another, when we have not stolen from one another, and when we have not lied to one another. Reconciling with fundamental agreements that keep society intact and our families safe in peaceful coexistence is steadfast and enduring. If this is the reconciliation that candidates will dedicate their lives to happen, they are worth our while.

There is no other reconciliation, by the way. Any different kind is simple politicking, insidious sugarcoating, exploiting the exasperation and frustration of the poor about the greedy, ambitious, and powerful warring parties. That reconciliation will last exactly until the next killing, the next theft, the next lie.

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