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Written in November 1997, this paper was presented at a conference in Derry under the title ‘Reconciliation and Community: The Future of Peace in Northern Ireland’. On the first page of this paper, I refer to four headings which would need to be dealt with if any significant peace and reconciliation in the North of Ireland were to be achieved. AT THE conference Reconciliation and Community: The Future of Peace in Northern Ireland, Dr Óscar Arias said: ‘We have learned that peace is not the signing of a treaty or the shaking of hands. We cannot define peace as the cessation of war.’ Recently Gerry Adams echoed these words when he said, ‘Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. Rather it is the existence of conditions in which the causes of conflict have been eradicated.’ Nor will simply talking and discussing, as happened at this conference recently in Belfast, be enough. If reconciliation is really to take place in the communities in the north, which have been divided for so long, it will have to reach down into the hearts and experience of the persons and groups who have been involved. It is at this level that they will have to meet each other if they are to be reconciled. If work of this kind is to be undertaken and to be effective, it will have to operate at several different levels: 1. The internal reality within each individual. 2. The personalized human group – the family, the extended family, neighbourhood, local community, etc. 3. The wider community – town or city, government departments , city councils and other institutions, transnational companies, trade unions, etc. 4. Larger aggregations of society – regions, nation states, supranational entities (e.g. the European Union), etc. 31. After the War, Reconciliation? 428 Of course, all of these levels are interconnected, as well as being partially separate. Of central importance here is the concept of boundedness, of the interfaces between these various realities, and the interaction and transactions which take place between them. Before going on to describe the kind of work towards reconciliation which we feel can be undertaken at each of these levels, I believe it is essential to have some understanding of living systems theory. What is a living system? A cell, a human being, a dog or a cat, a beehive or a group of human beings, all these are living systems. The following definition, derived from the work of a number of creative scientists in recent years, such as the Chilean biologists Maturana and Varela, the chemist Ilya Prigogine, Fritjof Capra and others, can be applied to all these levels. 429 After the War, Reconciliation? DEFINITION OF A LIVING SYSTEM 1. A living system contains a number of elements. 2. These elements are involved in a dynamic process of interaction and interrelationship. 3. A living system is separated from its environment by a boundary of its own elements such as permits transactions of import and export across the boundary; i.e. it is an ‘open system’. 4. It maintains and renews its own elements by its own internal processes. Living organisms continually renew themselves, their cells breaking down and building up tissues and organs in continual cycles of regeneration. The components of the living system are continually renewed and recycled but the pattern of organization remains stable. 5. The ‘locus of control’ is within the system itself. This is the most essential aspect of ‘self-organization’. If the management of a living system moves outside into the environment, then that system is becoming sick and will eventually die. 6. Living systems show a tendency to transcend themselves. Thus they not only tend to change and adapt but also to reproduce themselves and thus ensure the survival and evolution of the species. The next matter for consideration is that there are things within things, bodies within other bodies, one system within another. The essential thing to understand is that, while one system or body may form the basic unit or building block of another system, this does not mean that the energy is simply merged or that this first-order system loses its boundary and therefore ceases to exist as a separate entity. It remains as a system within a system. Nevertheless, it is now as a unit under influence from the higher-order system and transactions or movements of its energy may take place across its boundary under the influence of the higher-order system. The degree to...


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