By Jihan Anwer
“Reconciliation is to understand both sides; to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh -Vietnamese Monk, Activist and Writer
Last week I was approached by an old, frail-looking woman. She wanted to know where she could find chains.
“The type police officers use when handcuffing criminals,” she specified, responding to the blank look on my face. “I need them for my son, I no longer know what to do with him,” the woman sighed hopelessly.
She told me how her teenage son would disappear for most of the day and reappear for just a few hours, only to be gone again without her having any knowledge of his whereabouts. Her husband was long deceased and she lacked the power to prevent her child from ‘vanishing.’
Her gloomy eyes, through the veil, testified to the pain and anxiety she was experiencing about her son’s future. Three years she has endured this situation, it was worsening, she said.
I asked if she had tried talking to him – she shrugged. Her voice was full of sadness and desperation, “We’ve tried it all.”
As we departed, her difficulties became mine for a while. And then it hit me that her situation could really be compared to those we are experiencing at the national level.
Here we have two sides, both have suffered and both almost play blind about the pain they have inflicted on each other.
If they ever engage in a ‘dialogue,’ it’s to accuse and make demands of the other, rather than with a constructive outcome in mind.
I reflected on the words of Boushra Al Maqtari while recently in Sana’a, “I think it would be a delusion to believe that thanks to the National Dialogue Conference everything will be solved,” she said. “A population that has lived for the past 30 years in an environment of hatred, criticism, violence and civil wars cannot simply put rancor aside and come to good terms all of a sudden.”
The National Dialogue may well be crucial for Yemen’s future, yet the interactions between the different parties should be characterized by a basic atmosphere of, if not friendly relations, at least mutual respect and understanding.
It seems as though every faction participating feels entitled either to regain power or to discuss how the other side wronged them. An attempt at reconciliation based on fairness, truth and justice should be what paves the way for a dialogue, rather than a half-hearted duty to fulfill a written agreement.
I wonder what would have happened if the father, instead of the mother, of the troubled teen had lost his patience. Would he had sooner tried to consider what his son was going through, with the sincere intent to understand him, or resorted to violence when the first attempt at dialogue did not succeed?