John Paul Lederach tells the story about how this tool was generated in his excellent book Journey Toward Reconciliation. In peace talks in Nicaragua the mediators began with devotions from Psalm 85.10: “Truth and Mercy will embrace. Justice and Peace will kiss.” In Spanish the words are translated very clearly into Truth, Mercy, Justice, and Peace. Lederach related how he could hear the voice of each of these qualities in the various statements people would make throughout the talk. One person would constantly hammer on Truth while another would speak for Mercy. English translations often have less blunt terms like “loving kindness” and “righteousness.” For a thorough examination of the Hebrew terms download this word study: Psalm 85 Hebrew words.
To use the tool invite participants to self-select around which quality (Truth, Mercy, Justice or Peace) is strongest in them. They are all good and important, so which of these four good qualities is the one that resonates deepest in us?
Assign the group four questions to answer: 1) If this quality was to take shape in a person today what would their message be for our context? 2) What would happen if that message was ignored? 3) Which of the other three qualities is your best friend or ally, and why? 4) Which of the other three qualities gives you the most difficulty, and why?
When everyone is finished bring the groups together. Have each group select a spokesperson. Give them name tags for their quality or character. Ask each to speak in order. After one gives their report, ask a follow-up question such as these:
FOR TRUTH: I work with conflict and I’m often baffled to listen to different parties in conflict. One person will tell me their truth, and another will tell me a very different truth. I can’t figure out where you are, Truth. Are you two people, many people, or one?
FOR MERCY: Brother Mercy, how does your religious tradition understand Mercy? Forgiveness? Aren’t you a softie? Just wanting to brush things under the carpet and go on? Do you cover up an unclean wound making things worse?
FOR JUSTICE: Sister Justice, why are you so long in coming in a conflict? Why do we hear your name when the situation on the ground looks like anything but peace? Some people say that your justice actually creates injustice for someone else—how do you respond to that criticism?
FOR PEACE: Everyone says they want peace, so why is it so difficult to find you? Is your peace just keeping things calm for oppressive powers so they can continue to stifle and exploit people?
Psalm 85 gives us a vision of all four qualities being present and woven together in God’s national healing. Reconciliation needs all four at some point. You can invite the four “qualities form a circle with their right hands inward. Ask them to circle around. What do people see? All four are present but you only see one or two at a time. Reconciliation can be like that, a process in which one or the other of these qualities is in front at any given time.
For a Muslim group or a Christian/Islamic/Jewish interfaith group you can do this same exercise. For the Jews and Christians you can refer to Psalm 85.10. For the Muslims all these qualities are names of Allah: Truth – al-Haq, Mercy – al-Rahman (pronounced al-Rahmaan), Justice – al-‘Adl, Peace – al-Salam (pronounced al-Salaam).
I also used this tool with ex-pats from Ethiopia and Eritrea during the war between those two countries. We did the entire exercise separately, my co-facilitator working with one group and me with the other. Then we got the Truth groups from Ethiopia and Eritrea together, the Mercy groups from both sides, the Justice groups, and the Peace groups. We asked them to come up with a common agenda or message from each of the qualities. That became the base for on-going actions.
Once when I was using this tool the “Mercy” group decided to give a dramatized report, using no words but rather their actions of Mercy appealing to people, some of whom beat Mercy down. But Mercy continued to rise up and make an appeal until finally someone started to follow the way of Mercy. It was very evocative and powerful! You never know what a group might come up with when you give an opportunity for creativity!