Sources of Joy: Paul Tamburello, the Engaging the Other Conference, and the Power of Acknowledgment

Elena, Paul and Judi Tamburello in Paul's classroom, 1994. (Photo courtesy of Paul Tamburello)

Elena, Paul and Judi Tamburello in Paul’s classroom, 1994. (Photo
courtesy of Paul Tamburello)

Of the many, many lessons Paul Tamburello has taught me during the past four decades, one of the most important was on full display during last week’s Engaging the Other Conference: the power of acknowledgment.

As a teacher, mentor, friend and fellow traveler on the road of life, Paul has time and time and time again made explicit the fact that he has seen, observed and articulated my presence and progress in whatever area we are discussing.

Even more helpful, perhaps, has been his ability to put the current moment in some kind of context.

Two months ago you wrote just one sentence in a paragraph, he would tell his fourth grade students at Brookline’s Pierce School, where he taught for 34 years.

Now you’re writing three, he would say.

The knowledge that each moment and instance of forward movement was identified, witnessed and put in a larger context strengthened the students’ resolve and helped them continue to move forward with additional motivation.

We saw that some power at work during the conference in Bloemfontein.

A pair of Nigerian women, one Muslim and one Christian, ability to acknowledgment their common humanity and desire to end the killing in their Jos region has led them to forge a bond and work for peace.

Children of Nazi perpetrators and Holocaust survivors’ acknowledgment of the similar yet different legacies they’ve inherited over the past 15 years has allowed them to bond with each other and have the past intrude less on the present.

A black South African woman who was deeply injured in a 1996 bombing met the bomber 13 years later, and, after seeing his tears, took him as her son and offered forgiveness.

This not only led to diminished anger on her part, but literally helped keep him safe in the Pretoria where about 90 percent of the inmates are black.

If she can accept you, they said, we have to accept you,too.

In part based on that acknowledgment, the bomber has gone on to become a leader in the prison’s restorative program.

Beyond these specific interactions, the conference, through the range of presenters’ countries, organization types and content, acknowledged the importance of many different types of work on, and ways to contribute to, the same issue and goal.

For me, learning from Paul and attending the conference in South Africa helped me understand the kind of impact one can have when a wounded person or community reaches out and seeks to atone for past misdeeds.

Responding to that overture in an open, accepting and clear manner that, as Paul did thousands of time during his career and in our relationship, names and identifies the behavior, its meaning and its import can stimulate healing for all involved.

I’ll be thinking about what I learned and the people we met for years to come.

In the meantime, though, I want to pay tribute to my mentor and lifelong friend who has taught me over and over again in many different ways the power of witness and context.

I am grateful.

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