Acts of Reconciliation in Rwanda

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
                                                                                             – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms


The New York Times Magazine published a photo essay of case studies of forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda, two decades after the genocide there. The photos show a Hutu perpetrator with his Tutsi victim, along with a brief description of their individual stories of violence and the long road to asking for forgiveness. In the above picture, the woman, Vivianne, says of her former perpetrator, Jean Pierre: Continue reading

Ancient Ethnic Hatreds

This photo from a BBC report on the ongoing fighting in South Sudan made its rounds on the internet today, showing refugees being segregated by ethnicity at a UN compound. As of last month, an estimated 93,000 people had been displaced by the conflict, indicating the scale of the crisis (source: reliefweb).  

Signposts in Bentiu camp

Sign at a camp in Bentiu, South Sudan, segregating refugees by ethnicity. (Source: BBC)

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On Finding Optimism

(Dec 31: Here’s to an optimistic New Year, and that as individuals and societies we can learn from, and possibly even get the chance to rectify, our mistakes).

Some days, it’s harder to find optimism than others. But it’s always there. “In any event, it is the only way we can live.” 

From Bobby Kennedy:

“There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember—even if only for a time—that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek—as we do—nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

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Forgiveness in Boston

Boston-Magazine Shoes

Cover of ‘Boston Magazine,’ by Mitch Feinberg

Less than a week after the Boston Marathon bombings, which left 3 people dead and over 280 injured, Cardinal Sean O’Malley emphasized the importance of forgiveness during Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. According to the Boston Globe, Cardinal O’Malley gave the congregation  two reasons to consider forgiveness. The first was  to avoid the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth mentality.” In that way, forgiveness offered a potential means to avoid further hostilities between groups. In fact, local tensions seemed to be simmeringO’Malley was likely cognizant of this, hoping to help defuse things before they progressed any further.  

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Review 2012

Below is a quick look at the most-read posts that were written in 2012, with a brief summary, in case you’re interested.* Thanks very much to everyone for visiting, and to those who have shared these writings and commented on them.


1) Part 6. Humans are (Blank)- ogamous: Many Intimate Relationships. May 17

This was the most viewed post written this year. It looked at the variety of intimate romantic relationships that humans have negotiated into various socially recognized structures. I tried to go beyond looking at humans as naturally monogamous or promiscuous, which I think are overly simplistic arguments, taking a look at how this complexity may have arisen. There’s also a nice graphic, borrowed from David McCandless.

We obviously have a lot of cultural diversity in humanity with substantive differences in worldviews and which behaviors are deemed acceptable, but cultures – and individuals – are tasked with how to balance sex, love, intimacy, and commitment, as well as reproduction and parenting. I think this interplay between individual drives and cultures provides an alternate model of looking at things rather than trying to discern what humans ‘are’ in terms of our sexuality.”   

2) Human Nature, Humility, & Homosexuality. Feb 10

A pointed response to one conservative’s argument about homosexuality being against human nature, and the need for tolerance and the need to avoid making overly confident claims about human behavior. “I would recommend that if we have a choice, then choose humility. Choose tolerance. Choose love.”

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The Christmas Truce (Yet Again)

A couple of years ago around this time, I wrote a post titled Lessons from the Christmas Truce of 1914,” which is by far the most read thing on on this site.  Last year I had a lesser viewed follow-up about a man named Julio Diaz, a New Yorker who responded to a teenage mugger with compassion, which led to a conversation at a diner and the teen voluntarily handing over his weapon. 


Together, the two posts address some attributes we have as a species that facilitate cooperation,  even in times that are enormously challenging. These include, but are not limited to: empathy, the benefits of mutualism, and trust. We can find certainly find many counterexamples lately, with people inflicting great pain and suffering on each other. In recent memory, these include the horrific shooting deaths in Newtown, Connecticut  or the use of cluster bombs against civilians in Syria. This makes examples of cooperation all the more necessary.


To continue with this late December tradition, here is the story of a German fighter pilot from World War II named Franz Stigler and an American bomber pilot named Charles Brown:

On Dec. 20, 1943, a young American fighter pilot named Charlie Brown was on his first World War II mission. Flying in the German skies, Brown’s B-17 bomber was shot and badly damaged. As Brown and his men desperately tried to escape enemy territory back to England, a German fighter plane pulled up to their tail. It seemed certain death. Instead of shooting the plane down, however, the German pilot, Franz Stigler, escorted the Americans to safety.  (source)

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I Should Like to Say Two Things

With another contentious election now behind us, I’ve been thinking about this famous, lengthy quote from Bertrand Russell. In an interview from 1959, he spoke of the need for people to find common ground and to make an honest effort at seeking truth, even when we don’t like what the truth is.

I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral.

The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple. I should say: Love is wise. Hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way — and if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

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Reconciliation: It Can Be Done

Below is the inspiring, symbolic photo of the Queen shaking hands with Martin McGuiness, formerly of the IRA and current Sinn Féin deputy first minister. 


Martin McGuinness and the Queen

McGuiness and the Queen (Belfast, June 27, 2012)


In Us, Them, and Non-zero Sumness, I wrote: 

It may not always be easy, but former enemies can reconcile. Peace is possible. Seemingly intractable conflicts can be solved when attitudes shift and old identities take on secondary importance to a newer, more inclusive, one.”


I don’t mean to sound too pollyannish. Attempts to overcome interpersonal and intergroup conflicts would not be necessary without the problems we create in the first place. Furthermore, handshakes are merely symbols, not policy. But, they are powerful symbols. I’ve been compiling a list of examples of reconciliation here, incorporated into essays that explore this part of the human experience. I welcome any other examples you know of. Thanks.


Robert McNamara and Vo Ngyuen Giap (Hanoi, Nov 1995)


File:Gorbachev and Reagan 1985-9.jpg

Reagan and Gorbachev (Geneva, November 1985)


Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman & Apology

Amazingly gracious for a mother who lost her son.

“If I had an opportunity to talk to George Zimmerman, I would probably give him the opportunity to apologize. I would probably ask him if there was another way he could have helped settle the confrontation that he had with Trayvon, other than the way it ended, with Trayvon being shot.” – Sybrina Fulton, Travyon Martin’s mother. 

To me, it’s yet another example of the need for reconciliation, or at least understanding, under difficult circumstances. It reminds me of some of the many other instances of apology/forgiveness described on this blog:  Kim Phuc & John Plummer;  Pham Thanh Cong & William Calley; Jack Jacobs & Pham Phi Huang; Poles & Russians; Croatians, Serbs & Bosnians, El Salvador & El Mozote; etc. It can be done.

Related Posts

Reconciliation, Biology, and the Second Indochina War 

Reconciliation and the Second Indochina War II

Further Strides Toward Reconciliation

Peace with the ‘Enemy’

Making Peace with the Past

Reconciliation & the Second Indochina War, II

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” – Dalai Lama


I wrote this post, titled Reconciliation, Biology, & the 2nd Indochina War, about a year ago, and I consider it one of the more meaningful things on this site. It addresses:

(1) Examples of profound case studies in reconciliation and making peace with the past (Kim Phuc and John Plummer; the My Lai massacre, Pham Thanh Cong, and William Calley; various national-level apologies for past injustices).

(2) The significance, evolution, and neurobiology of guilt and forgiveness.

(3) Lingering injustices and problems caused by the war, as well as a few reasons for optimism. 

Admittedly, it is a bit long, and if you don’t make it to the end, it concludes on a hopeful note:

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