Tracking Reconciliation?

Monitoring and Evaluation is one of the fastest growing areas in the fields of international development, conflict resolution, and project implementation in general. It provides the basis for determining the effectiveness of a given project and allows for changes and adjustments to be made in order to ensure that the project is reaching its intended outcome. For certain projects this is can more easily be done than for others. Take for example a small-scale development project where the project is to build a medical facility in a given community. This process is fairly systematic. A plan is developed, funding is secured, the project is put into action, and the medical center is continuously monitored to ensure that it is meeting its community health objective. In this case, monitoring and evaluation is someone of a checklist. Is “x” working; yes or no?  What about “y”? And so on and so forth. The same cannot be said when it comes to monitoring an evaluation of projects involving reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a deeply personal process. It involves a change within each individual, a decision to let go of the pain and atrocities that they have endure, a decision to more forward, to let the past be the past. This is a primary concern in the conflict resolution field. How do we get conflicting parties to set aside their differences and at best live and work together or at least civilly tolerate one another? Some projects focusing of this area have sought to bring conflicting parties together on neutral territory with a neutral activity using sports, dance, music, art, farming, community work, or some other cultural activity that would allow both parties to participant. The hope of this activity is that through working/playing together, through having contact with one another, the conflicting parties come to realize that humanness of the other and begin to remove any preconceived conceptions they may have had. But how can we monitor and evaluate this process? How do we tell if someone’s hatred for another has diminished, if there fear of the other is lessened, if they are more apt to work with and along side of someone traditionally considered to be from the outgroup? How do we monitor and evaluate something so personal, someone’s soul?

Simon Wiesenthal‘s book The Sunflower demonstrates the complexity of forgiveness in his true account of a Nazi solider (Karl) who asks Jewish concentration camp detainee (Simon) for forgiveness on his deathbed for killing another Jewish family. The questions of forgiveness that Wiesenthal addresses are thought provoking, prompting the reader to question his or her own beliefs. Can forgiveness be granted ion someone else’s behalf? Karl is not seeking Simon’s forgiveness for a grievance caused to Simon, but rather is seeking forgiveness for the murder of another family. Since Karl cannot seek forgiveness from the dead, he asks for Simon’s forgiveness instead. If the circumstances had been different, if the family Karl wronged remained alive, would Karl have still asked Simon to forgive him for his wrongdoings? And if so, would Simon have been able to grant forgiveness on behalf of the family? The probable answer is no. If Karl could have sought forgiveness from the family he murdered, he would have done so and Simon would have no right to grant forgiveness on the family’s behalf. Should these circumstances be different if the wrongdoing resulted in death and the forgiveness of the wronged person cannot be granted? There are some circumstances in which the bereaved victims do grant the perpetrator forgiveness (this can sometimes be seen in murder trials), but to give anyone this right would dishonor the dead. Thus, Simon did not have the right to forgive Karl the atrocities Karl committed, as they were not inflicted on Simon, and Simon does not have the right to grant forgiveness on someone else’s behalf.

With an issue as complex as forgiveness, how can an organization seek evaluate progress made in their reconciliation efforts? The Spirit and Education Movement (SEM), a South-East Asian organization working in the area of post-conflict reconciliation, uses surveys to help bridge this gap. They conduct surveys before the project is implemented and after the project is implemented in an attempt to gage the ‘feelings’ of those who participated in the process. Although this is one why to capture how someone is feeling, is only captures their feelings on a particular moment in time, a feeling that could be swayed by multiple factors ranging from the weather outside to problems at home or at work. In spite of having conducted these surveys, SEM recognizes that monitoring and evaluation what it comes to questions of reconciliation is extremely difficult. So the question remains, can it be done?

The reality is that reconciliation is a process, an extremely long and sometimes incredibly painful process at that. It takes time and cannot be constricted on single project or activity. There is an old saying that goes “time heals all wounds”, note the word time. Consequently, monitoring and evaluation of reconciliation efforts should be carried out in the long-term, not the immediate aftermath.

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