Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Caught in a Dilemma

Written by: on September 29, 2022

Horns of a dilemma. That is the term in philosophy to describe the logical fallacy of only being offered two positions, with both being the worst possible outcome. That is what I think of when reflecting on the position of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission is caught between ignoring the damage of apartheid on the national consciousness as well as the everyday person who must now embrace a future together, or enact retributive justice on those who perpetuated the countless horrors. Compounding the situation is the depth of racism and racist acts is, itself, a slippery slope when attempting to squeeze out justice. 

When faced with the horns of a dilemma, one must not settle for the presenting positions and press through the middle until a solution emerges. That is what has captivated me about the solution of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was able to navigate the complexity of realizing a deeply spiritual and psychological virtue of forgiveness. This may be the only example of practicing forgiveness within public policy, because there was no other way. The alternatives would have continued the very atrocities that South Africa was attempting to leave behind. 

This is compelling because forgiveness is a difficult concept to actually live out. When it is considered as a course of action, it is offered within the context of personal forgiveness. It is the individual who must forgive, and come to this forgiveness on their own terms. In fact, it is a personal right to allow the individual to choose if, how and when to forgive. To force another person to forgive is not genuinely authentic, therefor, is not actual forgiveness. 

So, how can a country invite the citizens into actual forgiveness? It certainly is not a given, nor is it easy, and not everyone will actually participate. Yet, the reason it worked was because the country of South Africa and the people of that country had suffered so much. As Tutu points out in his reflection about Nelson Mendela, it was the suffering that made him compassionate and gracious to find a way to move forward. Suffering is the experience between horns of a dilemma. 

Perhaps, it is those who have suffered the most, who are able to sit in the tensions of a third way. A way between opposing views and solutions that seem so clear to others. A third way in the middle of the horns of a dilemma that embraces a future that is difficult to imagine. That is what is so intriguing about Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and the work of the TRC. The suffering they experienced compelled them into that place of tension between two terrible outcomes. In doing so, they demonstrated a way to live out truth, forgiveness and reconciliation that could restore relationships and a country. It is a tension that is still being lived into, but it is the only one that invited everyone to move forward. 

About the Author


Chad McSwain

2 responses to “Caught in a Dilemma”

  1. Michael O'Neill says:

    I have always found it extremely easy to forgive people. I have preached forgiveness to my family and others and I stand by it as a powerful and Godly tool we should live by. At the same time, I have never really been in a position that required forgiveness of anything major. This South Africa experience has opened my eyes to so much oppression and horror from the apartheid, I wonder how forgiving I would feel if my family were shot for no reason? If I were kicked out of my home with no notice? If I struggled for decades in a world of hate and segregation? Would I immediately forgive or would it take time? How long? I really do not have an answer. I feel very blessed that I do not live in a place where this directly affects me although I do see a lot of injustice and nonsense in my world tied to race and gender. The point is, “walking the walk” like Jesus, like Tutu, and Mandela is not easy. Forgiveness is great and I believe in it, but it’s so much easier said than done. I recently had a very close friend burn me with some hateful words that were uncalled for. We “made up” but at the same time I have been harboring a certain resentment for a few months. Does this mean I haven’t fully forgiven him? Maybe… I feel like I have but I often avoid talking to him at church or during the week. I used to just drop in or call him and I do not anymore. Maybe it takes time and I hope I can completely forget the way I was spoken to but even this minor instance is nothing compared to what the people in so many cultures have faced for years. I want to be more like Jesus and the leaders that promote freedom through forgiveness. I am going to pray specifically for wisdom regarding forgiveness and hopefully be an example to others that also struggle with it.

  2. Chad, I really appreciated your post and tying in the S. Africa advance into Mandelas and Tutu’s journey. How often do we forget to “walk the walk” especially in the areas of forgiveness when we are betrayed by those closest to us. I appreciated your example of humility in that you are wanting to grow in this area. I believe this helps you be more approachable and inviting others into following your example.

Leave a Reply