"Acknowledgement and Apology"
Jessica Benjamin


This discussion will focus on psychological aspects of the peace process, that is, the way in which mutual acknowledgement of suffering and trauma has a practical effect. The support for an ethical attitude that neither denies one's own suffering nor the other's can be created through a certain kind of recognition. This ethical attitude should not be seen as idealistic, that is, the opposite of practical, but as a way of overcoming the stance that encourages retaliation rather than compromise. Retaliatory feelings, though understandable, can be legitimated by narratives that use the suffering of one's own group to create an attitude of righteous victimization, which in turn makes it impossible to admit responsibility for one's own contribution to violence. Yet the underlying attitude behind such justifications is that of helplessness. Whereas, on the contrary, the renunciation of vengeance is an attitude--not only spiritual but political--which creates a real sense of strength and responsibility, based on the ability to tolerate being on both sides of the perpetrator-victim relationship. From this position it is possible to apologize for and acknowledge injuries one's own group has inflicted without simply feeling blamed. And those who feel victimized can also accept the apology and take responsibility for their own part in the cycle of violence, thus helping to create a sense of being active on behalf of the moral community. The purpose of this discussion will be to help use these ideas about reconciliation to consider our work in the U.S. today in promoting peace.
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