Righting Un-rightable Wrongs: The Difference a Decade Makes!


Nov 04, 2019 | EDR Blog

By Marina Piscolish, Ph.D.

Photo taken by Jamm Aquino, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (2015)

I wonder what my dear Hawaiian friend Jan would say about the current stance taken by Kū Kiaʻi Mauna, the protectors of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain and for many, a sacred place. The State plans to install a thirty-meter telescope (TMT) on its summit in spite of vocal opposition by many Native Hawaiians. Now tens of thousands of Hawaiians and non-Hawaiian allies are standing-up, showing-up, organizing and speaking out about the decision, the decision-making process, and frankly, about history. Regardless of one’s view of the TMT controversy, many concede that Hawai’i and Hawaiians are at an inflection point. What happens next really matters. 

Jan passed away suddenly in 2006. She was only 44 years old. I miss her every day.  I can’t say for certain how she would view the TMT controversy, but I do know she would be thinking, “What a difference a decade makes!” The Women’s March, Standing Rock, Charlottesville, Mauna Kea: talk of righting America’s un-rightable wrongs is emerging as part of our national and international discourse. Now descendants of slaves make the case for reparations and Presidential candidates are expected to address the issue, even take a stand.

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Justice is on the agenda, imperfectly but emergent. This is cause for hope IF we can rise to meet the moment. That was not the case in the 2000s when I and colleagues* raised this issue in the shadow of 9/11. We argued then, as I argue now, that we should not wait for an invitation to right un-rightable wrongs. Instead, as skilled third-parties’ we should call for, instigate, even advocate for these hard conversations because for too long, those benefiting from history’s wrongs have been unwilling and those harmed have been unable. The profession’s unique tools of dialogue, deliberation, conflict engagement, and conscious collaboration are critical. Our capacity to handle high stakes, multi-party, culturally complex cases make us right for the job. A deep faith in the power of process distinguishes us.  

Jan was one of several Hawaiians whose stories we gathered as part of our “Righting Un-rightable Wrongs” project exploring how socially responsible and culturally responsive processes might address historic injustice and their legacies of harm. The goal was to imagine assessments, approaches, and processes so trust-building and hope-inspiring that public fear about such conversations would transform into genuine curiosity and moral courage.  At the heart of the project was a set of questions used to gather unique takes on a common history.  They addressed: The Wrong, The Truth, The Impact, The Repair, and The Relationship. 

The Wrong: What wrong was done?

The Truth: What truths of this injustice and of your group are little known? What about this do people really not understand?  How might that truth be learned? Who should tell it? Who needs to hear it? How should it be shared? 

The Impact: What is or has been the impact of this history on you and on others that you know? What impacts are least understood or appreciated by others? 

The Repair: What would repair look like? What would that repair mean to you, personally? What’s the best outcome you could possibly allow yourself to imagine? Who would be involved in bringing about that repair? How might the repair begin?

The Relationship: What do you believe are the prospects for these relationships, after efforts are made to right the wrongs? Is there an interest in a relationship with the other(s) within your group/community? How might relationship goals impact the approach to be taken?

I recently watched Jan’s taped 2005 interview and was reminded that when asked about The Repair, she fell silent. Her usually bright eyes clouded with emotion, became glassy and tears rolled down her cheeks.  When asked, “why the tears?” she explained that recovering and re-discovering her culture and history had given her a new pride but also a rising anger.  Real repair was just something she hadn’t considered. “I guess I never made room for hope!” 

For Jan, for all of us, we must make room for hope. It’s time. It’s way past time. Quite literally, the Natives are restless, and where the past is still present, the ghosts want a seat at the table. More than ever, the thoughtful and artful work of healing our history is a job for which we, conflict and collaboration specialists, are uniquely suited and strategically situated. If humans can’t actually right un-rightable wrongs, we can humbly work make them less wrong.  Centering from right intention, sincere effort and “just processes” can resolve substantive issues and heal emotional and spiritual wounds for victims and perpetrators, alike.  Life offers no guarantee of tomorrow. May we muster the courage to seize the present moment and treat it like the gift that it is! I mua!  

* Key project collaborators included: Frank Dukes, Leah Wing, John Stephens, Kalani Souza, Jan Linsey, Lehua Lopez Mau, Manu Suganuma, and Helen “DiDi” Lee Kwai.

Marina Piscolish, Ph.D. founded MAPping Change, LLC, a conflict and collaboration consultancy. Her work spans sectors from education to environment; diverse clients from single agencies to multi-year, cross-sector collaborations; and, coast to coast, with extensive experience in Hawaii and the Pacific where she has lived for the past 20 years. Marina is passionate about customized, culturally responsive training, process design and support beyond agreement-seeking.  Find more information about Marina and MAPping Change, LLC at www.mappingchange.com  and www.linkedin.com/in/marina-piscolish-1b66596.