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Brendan Schutte comments on the historic handshake between Queen Elizabeth and Martin McGuinness.
by Brendan Schutte | 2nd Jul 2012
The historic and extraordinary handshake between Queen Elizabeth and Martin McGuinness is an amazing and wonderful event that many, many people never believed would happen. It demonstrates a remarkable courage to show leadership where often the status quo, however unpalatable, has held sway.This would never have happened without the hundreds of people, both political leaders on all sides and scores of behind-the-scenes civil servants, church people and others, who gave their time and energy unselfishly ....many of whom put their reputations on the line in the lead-up to the peace process and during the years since the agreement was signed.
But what a result! Showing a mutual generosity of spirit and containing symbolism transcending hundreds of years of conflict, that handshake is a powerful sign of reconciliatory movement, without which no true change ever happens. But when reconciliation begins, whole societies can be moved.
The roots of this handshake can be traced back to George Mitchell and the spirit of forgiveness which he developed during his time in mediating the peace process. Through listening, patience, gentle probing, a curiosity to understand why things are as they are rather than to accept the dogmatic view – these are all part of what mediation does and how the process brings about change. Gradually the positions expressed at the start by those in mediation become less focused and perhaps not as certain as initially presented, allowing change to occur. And when one participant makes a gesture of generosity, no matter how small, the other participant is compelled to be generous in return. We are all human after all.
This is far removed from the domain of courts, rights, entitlements, claims, and demands. Being generous in such a setting is considered foolish and counter-productive, and so the opposite is encouraged. Being generous is considered a sure sign of weakness, and what leader wants to show weakness?
In fact, the reverse is true. It is the person who takes that first faltering step away from the tribal orthodoxy who is showing courage. The one who reaches out a hand, without really knowing whether or not it will be grasped, is the one taking a risk. The person who shows that, while there are many differences between us, ultimately we are more alike than unalike, is the one gambling with the popularity of supporters.
This is where you find bravery and boldness and, yes, leadership.
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