Communities of Contrast: Modelling Reconciliation in Northern Ireland

Derick Wilson

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The way of ‘crucifixion’, the way of people of goodwill mimetically denying their own part, by acts of omission and commission, in the violence of a violent culture, henceforth discomforts us. The latent but life-bearing myth of the victims is henceforth that they deeply belong both to the perpetrator and to those --all those --who survived unscathed. And if we are to find ways to acknowledge this reality together, our divided community needs spaces and relationships where people can acknowledge the victims and perpetrators, all together exploring and consolidating new ways beyond fear and conflict.To meet together, learn and build a new, shared, culture within existing and new public and civic institutions between people from different sides of the fear line is a still fragile and delicate enterprise. For the immediate future, it will still be easier for people to be mimetic in respect of the old cultural wisdom, that ‘the Other is not to be trusted’, the ‘Other is your enemy’. Drawing on documented experiences over three hundred meetings, over a hundred extended courses and many other encounters, this text contends that there is already at work, in respect of past and future time, and in all places of our divided community, a strand of practice that builds experiences together, contrasting with the old cultural ways, and where the other is understood ‘to be a gift’. This is what we call ‘experiencing the Contrast’.Finding a basis in mimetic theory, the work was influenced by the work of the Dutch Northern Ireland Committee who brought diverse gifts in theology, literature, politics, philosophy and psychotherapy and a style of group work was developed that enabled people from very diverse and conflicting backgrounds to meet together and reflect on their questions and difficulties around living peacefully in the one conflicted place. Some practical working hypotheses on which that work have been based evolved out of our experiences with groups and have informed that practice now for more than 30 years. These inspirations were codified into a series of general principles or working presuppositions guiding our common encountersTo work with groups in a society where many people have traditionally remained apart, is also to risk encountering feelings of isolation and loneliness oneself. The facilitators have experienced times, and places, where bringing people together across lines of enmity has not been welcome. Living, as group members and facilitators did, in the midst of these fears, the facilitator was not immune. The sustaining purpose remains always to give people the possibility of finding their own questions, moving them away from relationships of rivalry and struggle, to share and exchange those experiences that are important for them. In contested societies, people often seek security in the midst of fear and yet the opposite of fear is not security, but trust. The task of peace-making for educationalists within in a contested society is the re-establishment of experiences of trust through the use of models of education whose main contribution to societal change or transforming experiences is to give people the opportunity of being with ‘the Other’ in an inclusive, freeing way. The ‘meeting together’ models developed out of the practice of the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland since 1965, and the particular forms of practice and understanding derived from the work of Girardian scholars since 1979, have underpinned the reconciliation practice of that ecumenical community and its residential learning programmes, as well as the wider community and institutional practice in localities in Northern Ireland, and beyond. For as long as personal and group relationships are founded on fear and violence, trust in any sort of politics is very difficult. Inversely, when people meet together across traditional barriers and experience trust in which they can be secure and grow, then these experiences, at a pre-political level, model a reality in which new, hopefully inclusive, political structures could, should – and perhaps will – come to embody.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCan We Survive Our Origins: Readings in rene girard's Theory of Violence and the Sacred"
EditorsPaul Gifford
Place of PublicationEast Lansing, Michigan
PublisherMichigan State University Press
ISBN (Print)To be advised in December 2013
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Jun 2014


  • Mimesis
  • desire
  • reconciliation
  • violence
  • religion
  • faith
  • the sacred


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