Today’s second session is about the power of making connections.
Jo Berry is sharing a story that started on 12 October 1984. Her father was a Conservative MP who was staying at the Grand Hotel in Brighton… and was killed by the IRA bomb. She didn’t just lose her father, but also the ‘free spirit’ who had no cares in the world. She now felt the conflict in Northern Ireland was her conflict.
She made a private commitment to make something positive out of what had happened. And so a journey started, a journey with no map, but she trusted. She shared a taxi with a stranger from Northern Ireland, who told her that his brother had been in the IRA but had been killed by a soldier. In 1985 and 1986 she began to meet people in Belfast who were living the conflict, and heard their stories.
The Brighton bomber Pat Magee was released as part of the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement. And one day, Jo got the opportunity to meet him at a friend’s house in Dublin. She was terrified, but she trusted. Both thanked the other for coming. Pat shared his political background and the pain in his community. Jo felt that he was trying to justify his actions, but she also saw that he cared. Something happened – he stopped talking, and said that he wanted to hear Jo’s pain and anger and asked how he could help. And so another journey started, as Pat took off the political hat and became vulnerable, disarmed by the empathy Jo showed him, which disarmed his position of righteousness. He now knows he could have sat down with Jo’s dad with a cup of tea. But instead both sides had demonised each other.
Jo has learned so much in 12 years. She realised that if she had lived Pat’s life, she may have made the same choices. Therefore there is no need for forgiveness, instead there is understanding. They have spoken together over 1,200 times, in all sorts of places around the world. People in conflict who want to meet the other give Jo hope. She believes that these stories are the way forward. There is no enemy, only the part of me that can be violent, and we need to transform that into a pattern of peace. That is the power of empathy – so I want for you what I want for me and my loved ones – human rights, needs met, security, freedom.
Sometimes she is accused of betraying her father, but actually the only betrayal is the betrayal of the heart that denies the connection with everyone in the world. Every time we demonise someone else we deny part of our humanity. There are times of wanting to blame, but there is always a choice.
Jo’s dream is that we see the humanity of everyone, and give dignity to all. Join her in this dream. Humanity heals together.
Huge round of applause, an incredibly moving and powerful story. Prolonged standing ovation.
Jo Berry’s project Building Bridges for Peace