Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Te Ara Hohou Rongo (the Path to Peace): Maori Conceptualisations of Inter-Group Forgiveness

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Te Ara Hohou Rongo (the Path to Peace): Maori Conceptualisations of Inter-Group Forgiveness

Article excerpt

A reasonable body of psychological research focusing on forgiveness in interpersonal contexts has highlighted its benefits to psychological wellbeing (McCullouch, 2001; Enright, 2001; Murray, 2002). However, much of the existing literature has been sampled from Western populations, and has focused on forgiveness at the individual level. As a result, the conclusions drawn from such studies may not generalise well to group-level forgiveness, and may not be equally applicable across cultures. The present study investigated an indigenous perspective on forgiveness at the individual and group levels. We conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 10 Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand). Rongo (demonstration of commitment to restore relationships), whakapapa (interconnectedness between people, places, and events over time forming identity) and kaupapa (agenda set based on the costs and benefits of forgiveness) were identified as core themes using thematic analysis. Forgiveness was seen as a collective social process, and as an outcome requiring commitment from both the victim and the transgressor to maintaining their relationship. In the context of Maori-Pakeha relationships, it was felt that genuine remorse and commitment to transgress no more had not been achieved, and that honest communication was lacking. In such a context where colonization was seen as on-going, most interviewees felt that forgiveness was costly and inappropriate. The findings provided insights into the perceived usefulness of forgiveness in an ongoing conflict, and processes through which group relations could be improved.

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Forgiveness has been linked with wellbeing, the relief of psychological pain, and a number of pro-social psychological traits (McCullouch, 2001; Enright, 2001; Williamson & Gonzalez, 2007; Murray, 2002; Harris et al., 2006). Based on such findings, it has been used by clinicians in interventions designed to heal relationships, dispel psychological hurt, and enable clients to make gains in personality development, as an alternative to perpetuating a cycle of hatred that could place clients at risk of developing psychopathology (Murray, 2002). The adoption of such forgiveness interventions in clinical settings has received little scrutiny, despite debate that ensues over the definition of forgiveness (Harris et al., 2006). Boleyn-Fitzgerald (2002) suggested that forgiveness is the letting go of ill feeling toward a transgressor. In addition to the release of negative emotions, Enright (2001) indicated that forgiveness requires the replacement of negative thoughts, affect and behaviours with positive ones. A variation on this theme is offered by McCullough (2001) who suggested that forgiveness involves a negative-to-positive motivational change towards the transgressor. A recent review of the literature by Legaree, Turner, and Lollis (2007) found the dominant position was that forgiveness was of great importance, essential to healing processes, and widely applicable across of range of contexts.

But Legaree et al., 2007 also reported a more critical position towards forgiveness held by authors who argued that forgiveness entails no longer holding their abusers to blame, nor trying to seek compensation, and that forgiveness may lead to continuing abuse. These authors advocated that embracing anger can lead to healing, and can be used as a powerful motivator. For instance, Hargrave (1994) has developed a rather complex conceptualisation of forgiveness in the context of transgressions between family members. He suggests that forgiveness can occur only when the forgiver establishes that the wrongdoer accepts responsibility for their actions, promises not to commit the action again, and there is an opportunity for compensation (see also Williamson & Gonzalez, 2007). Furthermore, Kanz (2000) found that groups differed in the value they attached to forgiveness: Practicing Christians and those who had not been victimised themselves showed a greater propensity to forgive. …

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