This policy brief examines political forgiveness, when countries or groups are able to reconcile or set aside historic enmities.
Ambassador Wendy Sherman makes the case that insights from frameworks of personal forgiveness can help nations seize the moment when their interests align and, accordingly, move to achieve political forgiveness. First, the process of forgiveness requires a sense of justice—victims must feel that perpetrators have been held accountable and will no longer be able to hurt them. It must also be a deep, extended undertaking: when perpetrators offer only superficial acknowledgments of the victims’ pain and attempt to move on quickly, victims perceive those efforts as perfunctory, even disingenuous.
Additionally, countries must reestablish genuine, ongoing contact to overcome narratives of “the other” that inhibit forgiveness. They should not assume, however, that political forgiveness will proceed as a linear, three-part process in which the perpetrator issues an apology, the victim accepts the apology, and the two subsequently cultivate their ties on the basis of aligned national interests.