Quinn (2016). Cultivating Sympathy and Reconciliation: The Importance of Sympathetic Response.

Quinn, J. R. (2016). Cultivating Sympathy and Reconciliation: The Importance of Sympathetic Response. In S. Maddison, T. Clark, & R. de Costa (Eds.), The Limits of Settler Colonial Reconciliation (pp. 119–135). Springer Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-2654-6_8

[“Introduction” (p 119) …]

“… without a basic understanding of [page break] the needs of the ‘other’ (the survivor) — what I refer to, below, as _thin sympathy_ — bystanders and outsiders, let alone perpetrators, simply do not engage in the healing process.” (p 121-122)

[“Methodology” (p 122) …]

“I define bystanders and outsiders as those people who were not directly involved in the violence. They are distinct from survivors and their families, and from perpetrators. In many cases, bystanders and outsiders were separated from the violence by time or by space. But at the same time, they are also members of the society that has been torn apart. … bear a responsibility to set things right.” (p 122)

[“Acknowledgement and Reconciliation” (p 123) …]

“It is my hypothesis that acknowledgement is the one stage through which any successful process of societal recovery must pass.” (p 123)

“… societies, and the individuals who make up those societies, must engage in a process of acknowledgement before any of the other acts of social rebuilding, like forgiveness and reconciliation, can take place (Govier 1999).” (p 123)

[“Sympathetic Response” (p 124) …]

“… programs of acknowledgement and reconciliation … the literature increasingly demonstrates that the mechanisms themselves are not trusted by the population, and that they often have very little impact because the population as a whole fails to engage in them (Chapman and van der Merwe 2008; Kiss 2006; Quinn 2009b; UN Secretary General 2011, 7).” (p 124)

“… _sympathy_ … I utilise the technical definition of sympathy as something approximating ‘understanding, awareness, recognition, and appreciation’.” (p 124)

“Sympathy is considered to be ‘an other-oriented, emotional response that is based on the… comprehension of another’s emotional state or condition’ …” (p 125)

“Before that can occur, however, the most basic step toward either sympathy _or_ empathy is a kind of ‘thin sympathy,’ which involves a simple understanding of what has happened to the other, and reflects a rudimentary recognition of both his humanity and his needs (Quinn 2015).” (p 125)

“‘Thick sympathy’ takes this a step further, and involves the development of a simple compassion toward others. … an emotional response … ‘the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another’ (Merriam-Webster 2016).” (p 126)

“For LaCapra, the experience of trauma may be primary, as in, experienced by the individual him or herself, or secondary, through hearing another person’s story, whether as testimony or even as a fictional account. The jarring experience of trauma — whether first- or second-hand — is enough to prompt what LaCapra calls ’empathetic unsettlement… [that is] affective involvement in, and response to, the other’ (La Capra 2004, 135).” (p 126)

“Thin sympathy, thick sympathy, and empathy can be seen as being on a continuum from the least engaged (thin sympathy) at one end, to the most engaged (empathy) at the other.” (p 126)

“Others, however, argue that bringing people closer together produces a kind of thin sympathy that will open the door for acknowledgement (Donnelly and Hughes 2009). … Nusso et al. contend that ‘countries in which there is greater social proximity between survivors and perpetrators as well as weak group membership may reduce mutual distrust, facilitate an understanding of the other’s perspective as well as greater willingness to engage in conciliatory activities, and produce shared frames of social reference’ (2015, 353).” (p 128)

“Ramachandran (2000) found that a form of imitation of the behaviour of others can precipitate an empathetic response (see also Oberman et al. 2007). This happens in the medial temporal cortex of the brain, when neurons called ‘mirror neurons’ cause a person to mimic a particular behaviour. Iacoboni et al. have argued that “[u]nderstanding the intentions of others while watching their actions is a fundamental building block of social behavior’ (2005, 1).” (p 128)

“… the development of thin sympathy among a critical mass of the population — that is, the smallest number of people needed to make something happen — is essential.” (p 128)

[“Social Reconstruction Blocked” (p 129) …]

“… factors demonstrate a decided lack of even thin sympathy, and in fact prevent the building blocks of thin sympathy from forming. Two factors that are of importance here are a lack of national identity and the failure of government to model thin sympathy.” (p 129)

[“Lack of National Identity” (p 129) …]

“The groups must begin to interact with one another — even through media reports or joint activities — that will help them to understand the history of what has happened.” (p 129)

[“Failure of Government to Model Thin Sympathy” (p 130) …]

[“Fostering Thin Sympathy” (p 130) …]

“Efforts to bring about ‘thin sympathy’ within a population may be systematised in a progressive, three-step trajectory that includes the following: 1. The gathering and dissemination of information; 2. Sensitising the population to the information; and 3. Educating the population about how the pieces of the bigger picture fit together.” (p 131)

“People need not only to know what happened, but also to understand it clearly. This holds true for survivors, who might know only their own story. It is also true for perpetrators who might come to understand how the small role they played contributed to a bigger whole with more egregious consequences. But it is critically important that bystanders and outsiders are engaged in the building of thin sympathy. They make up the bulk of the population, and are often the deciding factor in whether or not a particular program or process will be implemented — particularly in democratic or nominally-democratic systems. Their understanding is critical to furthering social rebuilding processes.” (p 132)

[“Conclusions” (p 132) …]

“Thin sympathy is a very basic step, and requires only a straightforward understanding of the events of the past, and the effect on the other.” (p 132)

Selected References

  • Chapman, A. R., & van der Merwe, H. (2008). Truth and reconciliation in South Africa: Did the TRC deliver?. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Donnelly, C., & Hughes, J. (2009). Contact and culture: Mechanisms of reconciliation in schools in Northern Ireland and Israel. In J. R. Quinn (Ed.), Reconciliation(s): Transitional justice in postconflict societies. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Govier, T. (1999). Acknowledgement and forced confession. [Typewritten Manuscript]. Calgary, AB: author’s collection.
  • Iacoboni, M., Molnar-Szakacs, I., Gallese, V., Buccino, G., Mazziotta, J. C.,& Rizzolatti, G. (2005). Grasping the intentions of others with one’s own mirror neuron system. PLoS Biology, 3.
  • Kiss, C. (2006). The misuses of manipulation: The failure of transitional justice in post-communist Hungary. Europe-Asia Studies, 58(6), 925–940.
  • LaCapra, D. (2004). History in transit: Experience, identity, critical theory. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary. Available from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sympathy. Accessed 13 Feb. 2016.
  • Nusso, E., Rettberg, A., & Ugarriza, J. E. (2015). Survivors, nonsurvivors and their opinions on transitional justice: Findings from the Colombian case. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 9(2), 316–335.
  • Oberman, L. M., Pineda, J. A., & Ramachandran, V. S. (2007). The human mirror neuron system: A link between action observation and social skills. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2(1), 62–66.
  • Quinn, J. R. (2009b). Haiti’s failed truth commission: Lessons in transitional justice. Journal of Human Rights, 8(3), 265–281.
  • Quinn, J. R. (2015). Failure to launch: The consequences of prematurely conceived transitional justice. In A paper presented at the European Consortium for Political Research. Montreal. 27 August.
  • Ramachandran, V. S. (2000). Mirror neurons and imitation learning as the driving force behind ‘the great leap forward’ in human evolution. Available from http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge69.html. Accessed Sep. 19, 2015.
  • United Nations Secretary General. (2011, October 12). The rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies: Report of the secretary-general. New York: United Nations.
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