forgiveness

Read the Review:

SurvivorStories

Our documentary film Coexist is reviewed in Thursday's New York Times. We invite you to read the review and watch our film on television. You may also read the full review here:

Reconciliation Held Together With Bleeding Stitches

‘Coexist,’ About Rwanda 20 Years Later, on PBS

By NEIL GENZLINGER APRIL 9, 2014

As Rwanda and the world note the 20th anniversary of the genocide in that country, much of the focus has been on reconciliations between the Hutu killers who slaughtered Tutsis and the victims’ family members and friends. “Coexist,” a documentary by Adam Mazo, at first seems as if it is merely going to be another effort to draw feel-good stories out of an impossibly ugly moment in history. But it ultimately proves itself much smarter than that, exploring whether forgiveness that is mandated by the government can be genuine.

The film, which is being shown this month on some public television stations, including WLIW in New York at 10 p.m. on Thursday, consists mostly of low-key but powerful interviews with participants in the genocide and survivors of it. They relate their experiences from 1994, and some of them sound as if they are buying the maxim that the current government is selling: Forgive, and resume living side by side.

But as the interview subjects open up, cracks in this facade are evident. A man who did some of the killing begins to sound as if he is merely parroting whatever the authorities say, just as he followed the instructions to kill 20 years ago. A woman who experienced unimaginable loss is not at all on board with the forgiveness plan. “If I could afford to, I would leave,” she says, “because I don’t want to see the people who killed my family.”

The film is being promoted as a teaching tool, part of an initiative to show the destructiveness of “othering”: dividing people into us/them categories. And its ultimate lesson is that reconciliation is difficult to manufacture. Better, of course, not to let enmity take root in the first place.

Building the Coexist team at one high school

Educators

Today is the final workshop with the 25 faculty and staff members before we bring the students in to join this new team we're forming at East Hartford High School (CT). The educators have spent this school year deepening their understanding of genocide and othering, bystanding and upstanding, retaliation and forgiveness, and practicing new skills (Guided Visualization, Talking Circles, Walk the Wall, Snowball). In the process our Upstander Project team is supporting social emotional learning, cultivating interdisciplinary collaboration among teachers from distinct disciplines, and creating a safe space for learning and discussion that can benefit students. This is all leading up to April 3rd when over twenty students join the Coexist Team. In September 2013 the Upstander Project launched a yearlong pilot project in partnership with EHHS.  The plan: work with the adults in the fall/winter months and invite the students to join us in the spring. The vision: use our documentary film Coexist and the activities in the Teacher's Guide to help the school strengthen its leadership culture with an eye toward making othering socially unacceptable.

What ideas would you like to share that support social emotional learning at your school or in your life?

Hurricane Sandy prompts question: "How do I really react to extreme situations?"

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Please support Coexist today as we work toward a fundraising goal of $20,000 in an all-or-nothing campaign! The deadline is February 3rd, 2013. Please visit our indiegogo campaign page now: http://igg.me/p/252105/x/10673

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Coexist is a documentary and educational outreach project in use by more than 3,000 schools and community organizations in 50 states and more than a dozen countries. Our project includes a 40-minute film and a four-lesson Teacher's Guide, which can be used in the classroom and in support of positive school climate campaigns, to counter bullying, and to encourage positive choices to prevent violence.

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Communities recovering from the destruction of Sandy are just beginning the process of healing from the injuries to land, homes, psyche, and sense of safety. The conflicts between individuals born from the devastation were on the minds of some educators in Branchburg, New Jersey as they reflected on the challenges of forgiveness, and the choices each of us makes when facing conflict. Many of these educators sitting in Circles at Raritan Valley Community College were dealing with gas rationing just days ago, fearing they may not be able to get to work and provide for their families. As one woman put it, "I'd like to think I would share gas with everyone, but what if we really had nothing?"

Another choice one teacher witnessed, "In Marlboro people were physically fighting over milk."

Another teacher responded sarcastically, "And they were really hungry."

Others nodded knowingly, the unspoken question left hanging in the air, "What choice would I make if faced with more dire circumstances?" Teachers voiced concern about what people in their communities would do if faced with even more difficult moral dilemmas.

Moral Choice Points

Those moral choice points were the focus of the conversations of 40 middle and high school educators from across this relatively rural region of New Jersey half way between Philadelphia and New York City on a chilly late November afternoon. The teachers of Social Studies, History, English, Latin, and Special Education spent much of their time at a table of 8 people exploring the theme of forgiveness by asking, "What conditions have to be met for there to be forgiveness?"  "Under what conditions were you able to forgive someone" "What conditions were not met in a situation where you were not able to forgive someone"

One young woman volunteered to her group, "I don't speak to my father, haven't for 5 years. I need to forgive him. If I did start talking to him I wouldn't forgive him immediately. But I am slowly getting to the point of considering forgiveness." She added that even discussing this and thinking about this is a step in a positive direction.

The questions are raised by the life-transforming decisions of people who survived and perpetrated the genocide in Rwanda, and the continuing efforts to compel people there to reconcile, now 18 years after the 1994 genocide. Educators began the 3-hour workshop hearing from the Coexist documentary education project team, Director Adam Mazo, and Learning Director Dr. Mishy Lesser who introduced the film by saying, "The people you'll meet in our film Coexist shared their stories with us, stories of why they've chosen to forgive, or not, stories of how they've taken responsibility for their actions, or not, stories of why they think the genocide could happen here in the United States, and why some think that what is happening in Rwanda is best described as tolerance rather than reconciliation."

Is it all an act?

Some teachers were skeptical about some of the pleas for forgiveness they saw in Coexist, including when a man named Jean-Baptiste pleads for forgiveness from hundreds of people assembled at a reconciliation workshop. "When we saw them on their knees, asking forgiveness, it looks rehearsed."

Another teacher asks, "are they learning about this sort of thing somewhere?"

Ingando solidarity camps are mandatory for people being released from prison and students are compelled to attend them too. The camps are viewed by some observers and participants as a tool of social control, or even brainwashing. The government maintains the camps are meant to build unity.

Another teacher, one of the few men in the workshop, analyzes Jean's statement in Coexist about why he killed and why he is reconciling-- because the government told him to. He asks, "What happens if the state says let's revert to killing next Tuesday?"

Another teacher thinks, "Their attitudes suggest they would continue to commit acts of violence if they were allowed to do it."

A nun, who is also an educator explained how the process of dehumanization makes violence possible in any place, for any individual, "When you convince yourself the other person is no longer a human being you can do anything to them."

Othering and the desire of certain groups to elevate their status over other groups is a tendency that educators in the Raritan Valley are seeing in their schools and in their communities as new and different faces move to neighborhoods that used to be primarily white. Some educators are reticent to name and voice this observation publicly. Coexist aims to open up conversations about how to appreciate difference and build mutual respect among all people. That developing conversation will continue in many of the classrooms of educators in attendance at Raritan. One teacher, Kathy, will pair Coexist and "The Book Thief" for her 9th graders year-long multimedia research projects.

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How Coexist is working in Schools

Here's a link to one example of what happens in classrooms where we teach Coexist. That school now plans to broaden and deepen the conversation about violence prevention. Read more articles about our work in schools here.

Read what people are saying about Coexist here.

Contact us at coexistdocumentary@gmail.com

View Coexist in Schools around the world in a full screen map

ORDER COEXIST NOW! | Screenings | Watch | Videos | How can I see it? | Education | Guide | Survey | Classroom | Glossary | Links | Coexistence is... | About | Mission | Proposal | Team | Board | Archive | Contribute | Subscribe | Connect & Share | Ways to Help | Supporters | News | Gallery | Press Kit | Coexisting Responsibly

 

Once a Killer Always a Killer?

Coexist is a documentary and educational outreach project in use by more than 3,000 schools and community organizations in 50 states and more than a dozen countries. Our project includes a 40-minute film and a four-lesson Teacher's Guide, which can be used in the classroom and in support of positive school climate campaigns, to counter bullying, and to encourage positive choices to prevent violence.

We invite you to join our community on facebook.

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“I needed that.” a young woman says under her breath as she walks away from an intense discussion about remorse, revenge, reconciliation, and forgiveness. 40 women and of all ages in 2 separate groups spent 4 hours reflecting on Coexist in a cold, florescent lighted gym in Athens, Tennessee. They wrestled with the moral questions raised in the film. You could see the deep thought on their faces as they contemplated whether men who killed were truly remorseful and actually reconciling with survivors left behind after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

 

Raven, a mother, connected with the story of Agnes, a mother who lost her husband and three children during the genocide. Agnes chose to forgive those who harmed her. Raven said, “If Agnes can forgive, it makes me think about when I can forgive for the small things that we get worked up about.” Another woman added “and we all have things we can forgive people for.”

 

It's a lively discussion where the women sit facing each other in a circle, seemingly feeling free to disagree with each other, as they do strongly when one says, “once a killer always a killer.” She's echoing the statement of Elisabeth in Coexist, whose brother was murdered more than decade after the genocide. Immediately many women try to jump in to dispute that, then going around one by one, many express their views that a person can change and not be defined by the terrible act they committed.

 

As the discussion ends and the women share how they're feeling many express their gratitude for having the opportunity to consider their values and engage in a dialogue about issues that they don't often have opportunities to discuss in a safe space. The women leave with smiles and handshakes, offering their thanks.

 

Then the men move in for a screening and discussion. This time we don't sit in a circle. But we do get into an intense conversation about whether people are born killers, and Elisabeth's comment “once a killer always a killer.” This is something the men seem keenly interested in debating. Some men point to people like Charles Manson and others known for killing numerous people. Others raise the idea that anyone would kill given the opportunity, with some disagreeing saying they would only kill if their life was at stake, not simply if the opportunity presents itself. There's also some spirited disagreement about whether a local genocide organizer, Gregoire, was truly remorseful and whether Jean, who admits to leading a group who killed, was really reconciling and remorseful.

 

The men were keenly interested in the motivations and values of people who killed whereas the women were clearly more engaged in the conversation about why some choose to forgive, while others do not. The women also chose to spend more time considering the remorsefulness of men who harm others.

 

As the men leave offering their thanks and many kind words, I flash back on what our host said when we walked through the halls entering the gym this afternoon, “If anything bad happens you just go over by the door there and let me deal everything and someone else will get you out of here, we'll leave it cracked open.”

 

But the warning now seems unnecessary, the people we met were cordial, kind, and appreciative at the Athens, Tennessee jail, even though they may be spending many months or years living there.

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Photos of the Coexist discussion at the McMinn County Justice Center:

 

View Coexist in Schools around the world in a full screen map

How Coexist is working in Schools

Here's a link to one example of what happens in classrooms where we teach Coexist. That school now plans to broaden and deepen the conversation about violence prevention.

Read what people are saying about Coexist here.

Contact us at coexistdocumentary@gmail.com

ORDER COEXIST NOW! | Screenings | Watch | Videos | How can I see it? | Education | Guide | Survey | Classroom | Glossary | Links | Coexistence is... | About | Mission | Proposal | Team | Board | Archive | Contribute | Subscribe | Connect & Share | Ways to Help | Supporters | News | Gallery | Press Kit | Coexisting Responsibly

 

Praise for Coexist

What are viewers saying about Coexist?

Audience members yearn for more time to unpack the many messages of Coexist. Here are recent comments about both the film and the debriefing discussions facilitated by members of the Coexist team:

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"Coexist was carefully and sensitively made, drawing in a variety of narratives, beliefs, and perceptions that underscore the complexity of mass violence. The video and educational programs serve as beneficial learning tools for American adults and young people who may not know much about Rwanda and have not been faced with the need for social healing and reconciliation after genocide. I especially appreciate the film for not offering simplistic remedies to the profound questions of how people live together, and live with themselves, after such atrocity. The film reminds us that we each face ourselves and manage our recovery differently, and that human beings have an astounding resilience." - Dr. Paula Green, founder, Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, and CONTACT Program, SIT (School for International Training Graduate Institute)

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"The power of the film and Mishy's way of inviting us to experience it deeply has Saturday evening still reverberating in me. So many levels of engagement arose as the evening progressed, with Mishy setting the context, with the brief history presented, with Mishy’s inviting and facilitating comments from the audience." - Sarah Conn, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder, Earth Circles

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"Coexist is outstanding, in part because it brings up for viewers so many profound thoughts and feelings. The film underscores our capacity as humans for evil and betrayal and injustice. And Mishy's welcoming, context-setting, and facilitation of the debriefing were terrific." - Robert Ryan, Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness Consultant/Coach

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"Coexist is so evocative; it crushes the heart because it is so real and tells the truth about what did happen and what could happen. I feel edified by having seen it." - Brett Litz, Ph.D., VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University

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