Given the recent occurrence of Reconciliation Week, at school this week we have been discussing the concept of reconciliation. In pondering reconciliation – the mending of relations with those from whom we differ – I recalled a line from a play I studied at school. In William Shakespeare’s Henry VIII the Duke of Norfolk says, ‘Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself’. I thought there might be a lesson in this about how reconciliation can benefit us all.
As we look around the world we see many examples of enmity. Internationally there is perhaps no greater example than terrorism; and we recently saw a shocking attack in Manchester. There is no easy way to prevent radicalisation and terrorist attacks. But a huge part of our response must be to seek to reconcile those who feel alienated from the rest of society, to reach out to vulnerable groups – especially migrant and refugee communities. The reduction of disengagement from mainstream society will surely reduce the attractions of terrorism. And when this is done we will all, of course, see the benefit.
Here at home, we also have much to gain from reconciliation. Imagine what will happen when non-Indigenous Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people truly reach out to one another with the hand of friendship. Think of the great benefit we as a nation will yield when we see more Indigenous people not just on the football field, but in universities, in the boardroom, in the parliament, and in the courtroom – sitting behind the bench rather than standing in front of it.
Finally, here at school, reconciliation is of great importance. Perhaps even more so than when thinking about international challenges, and challenges on the Australian national stage – fixing broken personal relationships is incredibly difficult. To do so we must be humble, quick to forgive, slow to become angry, and quick to see things from the other’s point of view.
One of the most wonderful and unique elements of the teachings of Christ is regarding the way we should treat our enemies. In Exodus Chapter 21, God’s people were informed of appropriate punishments. They were told that: ‘when there is injury you are to take life for life, eye for eye’. This doctrine was one of perfect retribution. However, in the New Testament Jesus turned this idea on its head. In Luke’s gospel Jesus said: ‘Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you’ – a doctrine, not of retribution, but of reconciliation.
Surely, you might justifiably say, this standard is too high. But I would ask, what’s the alternative? I suppose the alternative is heating that furnace for your foe, a furnace of revenge and retribution. The alternative internationally is for us to close our eyes to the root causes of terrorism – and for violence to continue. The alternative nationally is for the growth of misunderstanding between Australia’s first people and the rest of the population, which has been the bedrock of Indigenous disadvantage. And the alternative for us in our everyday lives is for our personal relationships to be impoverished by selfishness and a failure to forgive.
The danger in hating those with whom we differ – or, as Shakespeare said, in building a furnace for them – is that in doing so we risk burning ourselves. Seeking reconciliation, therefore, is not only the right thing to do, but it is a course of action that also directly benefits us.
Deputy Head of Senior School – Student Welfare