Truth Telling and Forgiveness: Story, Culture and Change

by Loren Niemi.

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” Herman Melville

Telling your own story helps illuminate the universal in the specific. It lets you own your experience, emotions, pain and hope. Telling the story of the “Other” is an act of compassion that lets you recognize their humanity and allows for the creation of a sense of common ground.

That’s all to the good.

What we (Dovie Thomason, Antonio Sacre, Ricardo Provenco, and Lorcn Niemi) expect to present in our Conference experience is the struggle with “What comes next?” We think that what we ultimately want and need to be whole is to move from identity and compassion to forgiveness. As it is said, “To err is human, to forgive Divine.” What a radical notion.

There are two things that you have to do to arrive at forgiveness. One is to acknowledge truth. These days there has been a lot of talk about truth and reconciliation. The notion is that you have to arrive at truth for the sake of reconciliation. That is to say that you must recognize that both sides have done wrong, name it and acknowledge that both have been and are deeply wounded. The second thing is that you have to realize that those wounds will not be undone by reconciliation. The scars will not disappear with this generation. So the truth may set you free’ but it will not necessarily make it any easier to live with the Other.

We want to explore the idea that forgiveness means choosing to live and to trust knowing the truth; that forgiveness requires an act of love and acceptance which is very difficult to do; that forgiveness begins with the self and with the community of selves willing to offer and accept it.

How will we do it? We are not entirely sure yet; but if we were sure, we should be bottling it to sell to a world thirsting for justice. What we do know is that we are working out a way to take the conference participants through a ritual, transformative experience that will demonstrate or, if you prefer, test the path to forgiveness with the group that is present. At this moment we know the path we are on, but we do not know exactly how we will get there. If we succeed, we are all the better for it. If we fail, we want it to be a wonder failure.

Loren Niemi is a storyteller, eclectic performer, and director of other pet formers who specializes in urbane stories that are more in the spirit of the New Yorker than the Old Farmers A Almanac. He is also a public policy advocate and community organizer who has spent 35 years working with individuals and groups to articulate their dreams and transform their fears. The co-author of Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories (August House Publishers), Loren teaches Storytelling in the Communications Department of Metro State University.

Originally published in HSA Newsletter, Issue #14, Fall 2004

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