Brother, meet me half way

Brother, meet me half way, embrace me, know me, feel my pain and let us heal each other.

There was a recent speech by Paul Kagame that stimulated a lot of debate.

Some misunderstood it, or took one line out of it and made a fuss. The speech did not imply collective guilt on all of a group but some mistook it for that. One even said “it is like asking a child to apologise for what another child did.” The main point was to disassociate people from stigma not to enforce it, to say “not in my name.” There are some stories of redemption from the Genocide, like two teenage boys in Nyanza, one Hutu, one Tutsi, they used to play football as a striking partnership. When the Tutsi striker was hiding at a church, his Hutu partner went to see if he was okay and got caught up in the chaos, when his friend was kneeling waiting to be killed he shouted “Nangye ndu’mututsi” – I am also a Tutsi, the killers knew he wasn’t a Tutsi but they allowed him his wish to die with his friend. “Who will I play with if you die anyway, I need your supply of passes.” One last laugh before the Panga fell. All it takes for bad men to prosper is for good men to do nothing, even sometimes a good man does good and is still killed but his story is a lesson. That kind of story can restore your faith in humanity.

Sympathy vs empathy – they are not the same thing, as defined here “Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably. Sympathy is a feeling, but the two terms have distinct origins and meanings. Empathy refers to the understanding and sharing of a specific emotional state with another person. Sympathy does not require the sharing of the same emotional state. Instead, sympathy is a concern for the well-being of another.” Lishner, D. A.; Batson, C. D., Huss, E. In other words sympathy is pity, empathy being in a similar situation to understand. A mother will empathise with another mother because she knows the sacrifice, a father can only sympathise with a mother. In Rwanda it took 4 years of negative propaganda to break the bond of empathy within society, to show Tutsis as another species so that people wouldn’t feel empathy for their neighbours. The bulk of the killing was done by around 100,000 hardcore Interahamwe, men who had been programmed to switch off their empathy, so they could kill again and again and again. These men can never feel for their victims, but they can feel sorry for what they did. That is why an apology is pointless unless the person has gone through a personal journey and evaluated their feelings, and hopes for the future. We need to focus on generating empathy, to the extent that if genocidal forces ever emerged again we would stand in unison like the Hutu boy who said “I am a Tutsi, kill me as well.”

Everybody hurts, the biggest mountain in Rwanda is not Mt. Karisimbi, but the mountain of pain we feel in our hearts. People say it is unresolved anger and ethnic resentment, but it is pain. Gandhi said “The greatest enemy is fear, we think it is hate but it is not, it is fear.” Fear begets hatred, hatred begets anger, anger begets pain. We have been focussed so much on who is to blame for the pain but not what to do with this pain. Every Rwandan suffered in some way in varying degrees in the War and Genocide that followed, some horrifically, some less so, but all who were here have scars, both mental or physical. What do we do with this pain? Germans ignored it and they are still dealing with it 70 years later, not collective guilt but collective pain.

Rwanda has some 25,000 known children of the genocide, children born as a result of rape, there must be countless unknown children who were also conceived like that. Now these children are 19 years old and now having children of their own, it is no good to just pity them, these children of pain, and grandchildren of pain. Reconciliation is not enough, we cannot go back to the past because it was not ideal. We need healing of our pain, but first we must recognise it, to see the hurt in all our eyes. To stop feeling pity or sympathy for survivors but empathy – to feel what it was like be thrown alive into a latrine with 20 bodies on top of you.

To jump straight to an apology is pointless, even Mr. Bamporiki who has devised this process only apologised after a long soul-searching personal journey. If you feel true empathy then you identify with the victim, you don’t feel sorry for them, you know what it was like to feel their pain. The problem is when one feels collectively accused the first reflex is defence and denial. The reason the Double-Genocide theory still exists is because unscrupulous people want to exploit people’s pain and reappropriate it collectively for political gain. They often say “I won’t recognise your pain if you don’t recognise mine.” We need to reconnect that empathy, to feel that we are all one. If one was to listen to harrowing testimony, first you are shocked, then angry they did it, finally you empathise and tell them sorry though you had nothing to do with it. After that you walk away with a little bit of their pain in your heart and lighten the load.

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1 Response to Brother, meet me half way

  1. JS says:

    Great read

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