Slay Your Dragons - Malcolm Stern

Transforming Tragedy into Peace: Jo Berry's Journey of Empathy, Forgiveness, and Healing

July 08, 2024 John
Transforming Tragedy into Peace: Jo Berry's Journey of Empathy, Forgiveness, and Healing
Slay Your Dragons - Malcolm Stern
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Slay Your Dragons - Malcolm Stern
Transforming Tragedy into Peace: Jo Berry's Journey of Empathy, Forgiveness, and Healing
Jul 08, 2024
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What happens when a tragedy transforms into a mission of peace? Jo Berry, who lost her father, Sir Anthony Berry, in the 1984 Brighton bomb blast, joins us to share her remarkable journey from grief to reconciliation. At 27, Jo faced an emotional crisis, teetering between anger and a desire for revenge. Yet, she chose a non-violent path forward. Grappling with immense trauma, Jo committed herself to understanding and embodying love even amid profound loss. This is not just a story of personal healing but also a testament to the transformative power of empathy.

Imagine forming a genuine friendship with the person responsible for your deepest pain. Jo's relationship with the man behind her father's death exemplifies how empathy and open dialogue can break down walls of anger and resentment. Their evolving friendship, built on mutual understanding and respect, challenges the notion of "us versus them" and advocates for a world without enemies. Jo also discusses how different family members navigate their own paths towards healing, emphasizing the uniqueness of every individual journey and the emotional work involved in such profound reconciliation.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Brighton bombing, Jo looks ahead with aspirations to create impactful grassroots work, publish a book, and explore film opportunities. Her vision includes establishing listening circles in conflict areas and promoting compassionate dialogue. Jo reflects on her experiences advocating for forgiveness in Belfast, facing significant emotional tolls, and the importance of an "inner coach" to counteract the inner critic. This episode is a powerful exploration of healing, empathy, and the enduring power of love in the face of adversity.

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What happens when a tragedy transforms into a mission of peace? Jo Berry, who lost her father, Sir Anthony Berry, in the 1984 Brighton bomb blast, joins us to share her remarkable journey from grief to reconciliation. At 27, Jo faced an emotional crisis, teetering between anger and a desire for revenge. Yet, she chose a non-violent path forward. Grappling with immense trauma, Jo committed herself to understanding and embodying love even amid profound loss. This is not just a story of personal healing but also a testament to the transformative power of empathy.

Imagine forming a genuine friendship with the person responsible for your deepest pain. Jo's relationship with the man behind her father's death exemplifies how empathy and open dialogue can break down walls of anger and resentment. Their evolving friendship, built on mutual understanding and respect, challenges the notion of "us versus them" and advocates for a world without enemies. Jo also discusses how different family members navigate their own paths towards healing, emphasizing the uniqueness of every individual journey and the emotional work involved in such profound reconciliation.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Brighton bombing, Jo looks ahead with aspirations to create impactful grassroots work, publish a book, and explore film opportunities. Her vision includes establishing listening circles in conflict areas and promoting compassionate dialogue. Jo reflects on her experiences advocating for forgiveness in Belfast, facing significant emotional tolls, and the importance of an "inner coach" to counteract the inner critic. This episode is a powerful exploration of healing, empathy, and the enduring power of love in the face of adversity.

Malcolm Stern:

So welcome to Slay your Dragons with Compassion. My podcast, done in conjunction with my wonderful friends at online events, and I have a range of fantastic guests who have come to join us over the period we've been recording this, and today I'm really pleased to welcome a very old friend, jo Berry, who's got an amazing story to tell and the work she's doing is so brilliant. I just love what she's doing in the world, so she'll talk to us more about that. But first of all, let's say um hi to you, jo, and I've known you many, many years and, uh, thank you for coming on the show thank you, malcolm.

Jo Berry:

I've just been thinking could be like 43 years, 44 years.

Malcolm Stern:

We first met you don't even look that old Jo, right? So I think the most extraordinary thing about you and we'll start with that, but then we'll see where we go from that is the way you managed your dad's death. And your father was Sir Anthony Berry, who was the Tory MP the only Tory MP killed in the Brighton bomb blast, and I think it was 1984, was it? Yes, it was 1984. And so this is the 40th anniversary of your father's death, and that must have had an impact on you. That's way beyond the norm, because you've gone out talking with the IRA man who killed your father around forgiveness, and I just think I've listened to some of your talks and I just think you have the most amazing capacity to be able to understand the fullness of things. So perhaps you could just talk us through a little bit about what happened back there in 1984 and maybe what led up to that as well.

Jo Berry:

Yes, thank you. Yes, I was 27 when the bomb went off and the world I lived in was peacetime. I never thought my father would be killed. I think I saw myself as a spiritual being who was here to make an impact on the world, but very much believing in meditation and the inner work, and I was not prepared for the shock and the huge trauma I experienced when the bomb went off. I wasn't just my dad, who I adored, but I lost the me. That was the free spirit that believed in meditation, that believed that life was going to be loving.

Jo Berry:

Because now I'm in the real world. In the real world, people are killed and people kill, and I felt I had an enemy, and before that I didn't feel there was anyone in the world who was my enemy because I hadn't been hurt in that way. And so, because of the intensity, because it was also about am I going to survive as a person? Who am I? Do I carry on believing in everything I have believed in, or do I give up on my values and my ideals and my vision with the reality of losing my father in a terrorist attack?

Jo Berry:

So two days later, I went to St James' Church, which we both know really well. And Donald Rees was doing a Sunday service where he had the generals for peace. He had some amazing people there and I remember just sitting in the pew and just thinking I'm going to bring something positive out of this. I'm gonna find a way to not have an enemy. I'm gonna change this around. This will be my life's work. I have to find a way to bring something positive.

Jo Berry:

And at one point Donald said you know, anyone who wants to make a prayer, come, come up. And I sat there thinking I want to tell everyone what I've just decided, but I was too shy. I was too shy, I was like I can't. And it was too huge and I don't think anyone in that church would have known my father had just been killed. I just went in there in an anonymous way, um, but that was the turning point and it was the 14th of October, the Sunday, and my father was killed on the 12th. So it's very soon, I recognise, now, to make that commitment. But somehow that changed everything for me. I was not OK, but it gave me a direction and a focus, but I didn't have the how to do it.

Malcolm Stern:

So what I'm hearing is this actually grounded you, because I know that so many of our have been sort of like what we call spiritual bypassers, have sort of got into love, light and peace, and it's not applicable in the world. It feels to me like you've actually been. It's almost like you've been skyrocketed into the world with a mission and and you're making sense of your dad's death as well. So that's that's quite extraordinary too. And um, is there there's? Is there no part of you that was just like I wanted to kill the bastards who killed your father, or or was there a? Was it like a moment of of that's it a moment of transcend, transcendence that changed your life forever, or did that come slowly?

Jo Berry:

There were times when I felt huge anger and also a need for revenge because, like for many people, it wasn't just the one trauma. Many other things happened afterwards which were linked to what happened and that impact to me, and it still is. Many other things happened afterwards which were linked to what happened and that impact to me, and it still is. Um. So there were definitely times when I wanted to hurt him for what he did and I think right at the beginning I didn't feel that anger and the rage that that came later. I had to do all the emotional work. There was no spiritual bypassing possible that was impossible.

Jo Berry:

Yes, yes, it was like, but I used to say it because I did spend a couple of years up a mountain in the himalayas meditating, um, until until june 84, and it felt like I was taken from the mountaintop into the bottom, into, like the mire, into the, the mud, into the difficult place. And that's where I've been and actually the younger me wanted to learn what love is. That was what I decided to do when I was about 22. And you know what I couldn't have learned and I'm still learning this in a better way, because I wanted to heal in a very ground, in a very real way, the pain and the trauma and and the violence and the implications of that bomb.

Malcolm Stern:

I remember reading somewhere once that I can't remember who the quote is by, but it's when extraordinary things happen to ordinary people, they have the possibility of becoming extraordinary people, and I think that's what I've noticed with you is that this has really, as you said, you've given your life to this. This is 40 years on now and in fact, you are doing some work on commemorating the 40th anniversary of your dad's death. Could you tell us a little bit about, about that?

Jo Berry:

so I want to mark not just the the bomb, but that decision two days afterwards, because it'll be 40 years of committing to peace and I've had the most extraordinary experiences. You know I'm writing in a book of, like incredible people around the, I've been honoured to meet, privileged things, I've learned it's amazing and I really saw the year as a year of spreading kindness and compassion and deepening our humanity. And I'm actually starting off back at St James' Church with Patrick McGee and he's the. For those who don't know, he is the ex IRA combatant who killed my father and I wanted that to be the the first event, and I think it's the 16th of October that we're going to go there, and that is in partnership with the Forgiveness Project, who are amazing and I've done a lot of collaboration with them. But I'm there for my own charity Building Bridges for Peace. It's a lovely name Building Bridges for.

Malcolm Stern:

Peace and with them. But I'm there for my own charity, building Bridges for Peace. It's a lovely name, building Bridges for Peace and I think what I'm what I'm getting from you, jo, is is that this is real. It's like you haven't really had a choice to go. I'll meditate this away, I'll ignore this. It's too big, and I think when something's too big, we can can either go. I'm squashed by it or I'll rise to the challenge. And I think what stands out for me is that you and your dad's murderer effectively go and lecture together about peace, and can you tell us how that came about and what you do together?

Jo Berry:

Yeah, I actually want to take you back to 84, where I ended up sharing a taxi with a random stranger. It was an incredible moment for me, a serendipity, one of the first of many, and this guy in the taxi. We were both trying to get to the same place. There weren't many taxis, and turns out he's from Belfast and this is 84 in the middle of the conflict. And this is 84 in the middle of the conflict. And so I said to him this may seem very odd, but my father's just been blown up by the IRA and I don't want an enemy. Can you help me understand their story? And he said to me no, that's dad. And yet we spoke of a world where peace was possible, where nobody killed and nobody got killed. The divide, and even though no one knows, I know and I've started making a difference. And so this idea of seeing people who represent my other and seeing their humanity grew and I went to Northern Ireland, first of all to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross workshop that lots of people went to in in 85 and stayed on, got invited to speak and met many people, but then, after the peace process, the only person who was in prison came out of prison and I had a real sense that this was going to happen and that I needed to meet him, not to tell him he was a bad man, not to get an apology, but to look into his eyes and see his humanity, because that would rehumanize something that was lost in the bomb. And I saw it as a one-off meeting and no one would ever know because I didn't tell anyone. I'm on the ferry going from Holyhead to Dublin.

Jo Berry:

When I eventually found out he would meet me, I was terrified, absolutely terrified. When I eventually found out he would meet me, I was terrified, you know, absolutely terrified. And you know I now do restorative justice on quite high cases of homicide and murder and this is how not to do these things. Like there was no one there for support, preparation, facilitate, you know. But there is, he and I in this room together for three hours, and I remember sort of thinking to myself. One voice was like what are you doing here, joe? You should go right now. This has been disloyal to your dad, it's betraying him. He killed him. Go while you can. Another voice saying but you don't look like a terrorist. You know some strange thoughts and emotions going on, but more than that. And emotions going on. But more than that, I was really present to him. In a way I don't think I've been present to anyone before because I was curious and I so needed him to be safe, to actually show me some of his humanity.

Jo Berry:

And he started off by, I suppose, to call it political justification. We had to do this because we were oppressed. It was very much about the we and speaking for his community, and he talked about why he joined the IRA and why, for him, the Brighton bomb was a success as a strategy, because it brought them the power which enabled the peace process to happen. And that's all you ever wanted was political power. And I remember looking into his eyes and thinking you are someone who really cared for your community. This came out of your caring. Now we're never going to agree that violence works, because to me it never works, but I can understand how you got there and that you are someone who cared.

Jo Berry:

And when I saw that care in him, then he was now a real human being with a heart, with his humanity. And I remember thinking I'm going to go now because this is all I need. And that's when he changed. And he then said to me I don't know who I am anymore. Can I hear your pain? Can I hear your anger and what can I do for you? Meet me.

Jo Berry:

And he started his journey and it was an incredible moment. It was actually really scary, but also I I embraced it, I wanted this. I mean, I had no idea where it was going to go. You know, I think if I'd known I would have left the room, but but I I knew that this was special. And another hour and a half and I'd finished being able to listen to him because it took up so much of my own inner resources. So I thanked him and that's when he said I'm, I'm really sorry I killed your dad. And it wasn't the apology, it was the recognition of my dad as a human being, because just as he he was dehumanised by the British government, he also dehumanised the people in that hotel. Like that's the nature of conflict, when it doesn't work, when it's negative, and so he's now seeing my dad as a human being as well and that means a lot to me. And that just sort of grew and grew over the next few meetings.

Malcolm Stern:

I mean, I think it's quite unbelievable that you followed that route and it sort of reminds me a bit of the South African brilliant experiment of the truth and reconciliation which obviously you've been affected by, and it seemed like you're running parallel to that as well. You all, you all seem like you're running parallel to that as well. I think what you got from from pat mcgee, was repentance. Rethinking doesn't mean oh, you know, I wish I hadn't done it. I don't think he was saying that.

Malcolm Stern:

I think that he no he was fighting for a cause, but what? What you managed to establish was his and your shared humanity, and I think what we're looking at is an evolutionary process, jo, that you are actually sort of like you're heading a trail in terms of forgiveness. You've got fantastic credentials now to do that, and I know you've lectured all over the world with Pat and on your own as well, and you've lectured at St James' when I've been organising the series there.

Jo Berry:

Perhaps you could say a little bit about what it's like being on stage with this man, what, what it's been, what it's done for you and for him so he would say that he was disarmed by my empathy and that if I'd gone in there blaming him, ranting, raging, he would have stayed in a very safe place of righteousness because they were the oppressed. And it's interesting that the power of empathy has really made me think about empathy as a way for change and for transformation. And I think when we're on a stage, we show that there's no right or wrong, there's no sides. People can identify with what he's saying and they can identify with what I'm saying. And for most of us we like to, and I can still catch myself to think you know who are the goodies and who are the baddies, who's right and who's wrong, and our whole world is divided into that. And what I'm talking about and Pat is supporting me in this is can we have a world with no other, with no enemy, where we have unbounded empathy, which means not just with those that we agree with, but even those we don't agree with? And then how can we have that conversation without blaming and shaming people? And that's one of the things that I do a lot of work with people. So we're on the stage, it can actually be. I can challenge him because we're real. It's always whatever's live at the moment and we're doing a lot less at the moment, and which is just as it is. But I'm going to be with him in a couple of weeks in Switzerland.

Jo Berry:

But we've had some very difficult times together where he's moved back to the justification and maybe there's someone in the audience who's triggered him, or maybe a question that's taking him back to that place where he he chose to use violence, um, and he he's not in a place where he can say the violence was wrong, because he still thinks they had no other choice. So that's always going to be a tension between us. So it's not like, you know, nice chocolate box of ribbons on and we're sailing over to the sunset. It's actually. It's difficult emotional work still, um, and I think if it wasn't and if I got to a place where I thought we're just repeating things we've said you, you know I'm not growing from it I probably wouldn't do it, but each time I'm with him I feel I learn.

Jo Berry:

So I didn't meet him to change him, it was to change myself, and I think I'm healing my own violence, like my own need to blame and shame, and also healing my inner critic, which can be quite strong sometimes. So it's inner work, but the outside is also about how can I speak to you in a way which makes it safe for you to speak about things that maybe are difficult. You know, how can I challenge you about something that you've said without shaming you? And he listens to me, I think, in a way which helps me to do that. Like he acknowledges what he did, like it's not and and but. Also that can be difficult as well, like our relationship. He is my friend and I do care for him a lot, but I don't forget how we met and how you know how the story has grown. But he's changed the story for me by having this dialogue and I think he's very courageous to do that.

Malcolm Stern:

I think you're both very courageous. I think that's what touches me. I feel myself close to tears listening to you. There's been transformation here and you've both impacted each other, and I think what you're saying is, if it became stale or you just churned out a given lecture, that would not do it for you. But what does it for you is actually the growth and what it's also doing it for him. So maybe at some point, like Nelson Mandela, who originally espoused violence and finally came to the place where he realized that violence was never going to be the answer I don't know whether that might be a fairy story, that Pat will go to that place, but certainly he's being touched by you and I love the way that you call him very clearly your friend, and that's an extraordinary thing you can't say. There are many situations where someone has has actually harmed, killed a member of your family and become your friend yeah, he is.

Jo Berry:

it's. It's 20 years since I first met, 24 years since I first met him, and I've been to countries around the world where he's the only person that I know, you know, and he's given me support. So it definitely is a friendship and I think he cares about me as well. Deeply, there's a trust that's grown, I think, over the years, and the last thing he'd ever want would be to upset me.

Malcolm Stern:

So, yeah, it's a transformational we haven't got the words for it transformational friendship I think that's very beautiful and and I'm wondering how your family responds to this, because you're out there, you're very visible with with pat mcgee, with your father's killer, um, and I'm wondering whether they've been able to be touched and integrated into this feeling.

Jo Berry:

I have an amazing family and I adore them all to bits and, like at the beginning, I could protect them. I could say, you know, I'm going to be on this programme or this newspaper, but I mean, that's long gone and it's something that I'm so proud of, the way that they give me their support, even though their journey is different. So I really believe we all have our own journeys. And if people say to me, would you recommend that I do what you do? And I'm like, no, I will support you in you finding what you need to do for you, because, because that will be unique. You know, we've all got our own internal idea of what we need and there's not one right or wrong way and I really needed this and maybe it's an experiment and who knows what's going to grow from this.

Jo Berry:

But at the same time, I have people accuse me of betraying my dad and withdrawing their love Not close family, they're amazing but further out. And I understand that, because that's how we've been grown to think this is betrayal, and I've gone deeply into what is betrayal. What is it? And for me, betrayal is betraying myself, betraying my heart. If I saw someone as an enemy, if I saw someone as less than human. If I take their humanity away, then I am betraying myself and I'll be affected by that. But that is ongoing emotional work. That's ongoing, developing my curiosity and and my understanding and it's you know, it's not something I can say right, I've got there. You know, I used to believe there's a place to get to and now I'm like I don't even care. To me it's each day being present to what's live in me, what's happening, how can I make a contribution to the world today? And each talk I give and each workshop I give, it's like for the first time, in that I'm not repeating things, I'm not going to prepare it by writing down every word. I stand in front of an audience and I just take a moment of just openness and then just speak. And you know that for me works because I want to connect with the people and with their own humanity. You know, in in the audience, like and doesn't matter if it's a group I was blessed enough, privileged, to speak with some, a group of 14 year olds from Palestine and Israel and I I know that for them it was the same connection, you know. Or I spoke recently at a corporate event. It doesn't matter to me. We're all human beings and I want to connect in a way that empowers people to to really know, know their own self-worth and to make their own decisions about this whole area.

Jo Berry:

Like is it about forgiveness, is it about empathy? Is about revenge? I think it's. All of us find our own meaning to this, but what I do know is that when we try and change the past which I think is kind of revenge, we're trying to make it better. Then we delay our healing and healing comes. I'm, I believe, from saying I had no control over what happened to me. Like these things happen. You know, I like much, much worse to people than me. But I can take my power back and I can choose how I respond. And if the story in my head is my life is ruined because of a person that hurt me, then I'm hurt twice hurt from the original act and then because there was someone in my head who reminds me all the time of the harm. So it is for me about reclaiming that power and going. You know I can choose how I'm going to respond with support, you know, with resources, but that's that's mine as you speak to.

Malcolm Stern:

I don't know if you haven't written a book yet, have you?

Jo Berry:

I'm writing it. I haven't got a publisher writing your book.

Malcolm Stern:

Oh well, I can probably help support you in getting a publisher anyway, so we can. We'll talk more about that. I don't think you've got the most amazing story to tell, and and I think when we transcend suffering, I mean for me one of my great heroes is victor frankl, um, who's you know, um, it's just touch. Every time I read it it touches my heart and I pick it up every few years and read it again, and it's simple, but he got transformed by his suffering and I, and what I'm seeing is that you are being transformed by your suffering.

Jo Berry:

Thank you. Well, yes, I think so, and there's still, there's always more to heal. You know that's the thing, and you know my commitment is like it feels like I've just started, like I want to do more in the world to show that, you know, hating and dehumanising each other actually hurts us. You know, like I think when we go for revenge, it is only us that actually gets hurt. I mean, it might hurt if we end up killing the person, but it's more about what it does to us, you know, and and we can have the conversations without blaming, shaming, like we can actually talk about people's behavior. So, rather than go, you know, know you're bad and we don't like to be told we're bad, we just, you know. Then we get defensive or we can turn it inwardly, but we can communicate in a way which means that you know it enhances all our self-esteem and self-worth and can bring more harmony to our lives and actually can deepen the connection between us rather than break it.

Malcolm Stern:

Yes, I mean, I think you've got as you say. Your road is still opening for you as well. That's lovely that you haven't sort of gone. Well, this is my thing, and I trot out the same old stuff every time I go around the life and your response to this horrendous situation has evolved. Where do you see yourself going in the future? I mean, you know often we don't see the path ahead either, but what do you see as the next steps?

Jo Berry:

So I'm ending a few things in this month. I'm going to have some space and part of that is creating the 40th anniversary year. I've got a crowdfunder and I'm going to be organizing more events, but it's also giving myself time to just stop and breathe and think okay, what do I want to do for the next 10 years? And I love my grassroots work. I love it working in schools or wherever I go, but I also want to make more impact. I want the book to be published.

Jo Berry:

There could be someone who wants to make a film but I'm also interested in working with decision makers to support them, in working with people rather than to people. So even like I'd love to see a world where you know, rather than working with controlling people rather than telling people they're wrong, and all the dehumanization actually work together with that shared humanity. So I've got some big goals, but also I'm open. You know, I think I actually feel right now really open to seeing what's going to come next, have that space, which is incredible because I've been really busy for a long time. I am going to go to Sarajevo, to an amazing youth conference and hopefully Lebanon. I mean there are a few things in the calendar, but also there's a feeling of space which I'm not going to rush to fill.

Malcolm Stern:

I'm going to see what, what comes of space which I'm not going to rush to fill. I'm going to see what, what comes. It strikes me that they could use you in in israel, palestine. Um, in that I know I heard you you've done something with young people there, have you? Have you had any invitations to to go there at all?

Jo Berry:

I've been there. I went there with patrick mcgee about I don't know, 13 years ago. There's some amazing groups there parent circle, um, family forum who they're right now doing amazing work of their people, who've been bereaved, who come together from both sides. So you know, for me it's about listening. I think I'd love to go there and just listen, because listening validates people and when people feel heard, then they're more likely to be resourced and be able to do more. And I know how to listen Like I don't always listen well, but I can listen.

Malcolm Stern:

Yes, yes.

Jo Berry:

You know I can be really focused and listen and Patrick McGee has taught me about the power of listening and I think to go there and listen to the pain is really important.

Jo Berry:

You know, part of my plan for the year is to have listening places like a kind of restorative circle circle, listening circles in different parts of the uk, because we've actually got a lot of pain and trauma right now happening and physically. I'd go to these places and then have um online or, if there's the money, bring people together in real life um, because when we listen to each other and and I've seen it happen people whom perhaps someone would have had a judgment for it dissolves because they can connect with their story. Oh okay, so you have problems with this, so do I, and it's moved from. You know, I see you as a threat to my safety to oh well, let's collaborate. And I think that's what this time is about. Now is like locally collaboration, you know, in the country, and then eventually the world. We need to all collaborate together because of the different potential and happening threats.

Malcolm Stern:

And you have, I think, three daughters. Is that right? Yes, and I'm wondering how you've impacted them. Do they think mum's a bit loopy or mum's a heroine? How do your girls respond to you? They're post-teenage now, aren't they all of them?

Jo Berry:

Oh yeah, they're 28, 31, 33.

Malcolm Stern:

Yes. How are they with your philosophies and your way of being?

Jo Berry:

You could ask them, cause I actually don't know, but I see it's interesting. I see some of the incredible. They're so skilled, you know, and they're so resourced and the conversations they have they're very close. They live together or during lockdown Now they're all in separate places have they're very close. They live together ordering lockdown now they're all in separate places, but they're in touch and and I see how they manage themselves, manage the challenges at work. Um, I see how they they know they can create the future they want.

Jo Berry:

Their I mean their communication skills are extraordinary and they do challenge me as well. You know, like they know when I'm acting from a place of control or you know if I lapse into doing something to them and they challenge me and I've listened to them telling me where I've got it wrong, even recently. We also do talk a lot about the past and I'm doing a lot of listening to them telling me where I've got it wrong, even recently. We also do talk a lot about the past and I'm doing a lot of listening to them. So I see that they've discovered themselves about conflict, transformation and about listening. It's like, yeah, they all tell me in different ways. Oh, it's so interesting.

Jo Berry:

I'm seen as the one who can listen and I and I just sort of go, yeah, you know, yeah, because that's sort of that was around. But in terms of their own journey, they're not interested in meeting Patrick McGee and that's completely their choice. You know they've got their their journey. You know I've never dragged anyone into this, like I'm just super sensitive that. You know, this is for me and that's fine. And if someone does want to get involved, I would make sure that it was done in a way which worked with them in terms of confidentiality and, you know, respect.

Malcolm Stern:

I'm left wondering how Patrick's colleagues in the IRA feel about what he's doing with you. I mean, he's definitely breaking the mould too. Has he impacted his community?

Jo Berry:

I think so. I think at the beginning, like me, he was very worried about how they would be. I mean so early on in the peace process we went public in 2001. And looking back I was like, wow, we weren't really way ahead of the recognition that would later come. And I remember he was told when we had the BBC documentary that maybe I was a spy. Bbc would never let him speak. And that changed. That changed quite quickly. And I've had people in West Belfast, which is one of the places the IRA have come from, who've said Republicans, who've said to me it's the first time they've heard by an English person.

Malcolm Stern:

Wow.

Jo Berry:

And I've also had someone say recently that I have affected the politics there, but I mean it's not directly but just because our example.

Jo Berry:

So I mean I don't know the impact and I always know when I'm going to, when I go to Belfast, that it's more powerful than anywhere else and it's also the hardest place to go because of what we represent is still actually quite difficult for people. And I'm actually going to speak to someone next who is inviting me to be part of the 40th anniversary. I want to do like four or five peace tours there and visit places because I've done a lot of work there and go to places I've been and new places as well, and share my story and do workshops and and look at this idea that we're all change makers and how can I create a space for the young people to really take that, take that power? Yeah, and there's one time in Belfast we actually had a riot and people still know us as the riot people, so they don't want me back wow but no, that was a long time ago now so do you feel generally accepted in belfast?

Jo Berry:

I feel accepted everywhere. You know, that's just how I am I. But I mean I've got yeah, I have so many friends then and it feels like home and I and I love it. My heart just feels so, so connected when I'm, when I'm there there. It means the world to me to be there in Belfast and also all over in Derry as well.

Malcolm Stern:

I remember watching a short film many years ago about a woman who was tortured by Mengele in Auschwitz and had been permanently disfigured by him and forgave him, and there was no question when watching her speak that she had genuinely forgiven a tormentor. And I think what was really sad was that she felt that so many others who'd been at the effect of this terrible man disdained her, disowned her as betraying their cause, and I'm wondering whether that has any parallels with you at all.

Jo Berry:

Yes, I think that's how it is that when one person takes that journey, how does that impact the people that are left that aren't going on that journey? So I've had people yeah, definitely angry at me. I mean, my first death threat came to St James's when I was working there in 85 or 86. I think I went public in 86 for the Evening Standard talking about forgiveness and I remember someone saying we're part of a group that are full of people who all experience murder and what you say does disservice to us and therefore you do not deserve to live, and it was a big jump. So we're going to come and find you and basically kill you because it's such a threat to their own reality. If I'm saying I mean I don't actually talk about forgiveness anymore, unless I got a lot of time, but in those days I just said I've forgiven, and that really threatened him.

Jo Berry:

Now I couldn't have a conversation, but I would have liked that, because when people are really angry with me because of what I've done, then I might say to the person you know, it seems that you feel really strongly. You know, I'm wondering what's happened to you that's caused you to feel like this. I sense you've been through a lot, and then the conversation changes and then it's about them sharing their story, and then they forget that they might be angry with me, because actually behind that is usually trauma, is usually a story that hasn't been heard, and so I'm always wanting to go deeper into what is behind that rather than, rather than try to, you know, have a conversation of which is like, well, you're wrong, Well, I'm right, I mean that's just not going to help anyone. I mean that's just not going to help anyone. And so, even though I might feel a little bit kind of, you know, hurt or judged by it, I'll move beyond that and just go.

Malcolm Stern:

I'm here for you. That's very lovely, in fact. What you're demonstrating, of course, is the power of bearing witness, which is a transformational skill as well that you've clearly steeped yourself in over the many years. So we're coming towards the end of our podcast. I could talk to you about hours, joe and um I mean many times in the past we have talked for hours as well, but this has been really lovely to catch up and hear the fullness of your story and, um. I always ask this question at the end, which is I like to be spontaneous. I don't tell people at the beginning, but the question is what dragons have you had to slay, what hurdles have you had to overcome in order to be who you are now?

Jo Berry:

That's a great question. For me, it's my inner critic, it's the voice in me that all my life has told me I'm less than and that I'm wrong, and that has put me down. And it's been huge. It's been huge. It's like being there, and the more I'm out in the world, the more I'm out in my comfort zone, the louder it is. And in the last few years I really found a way I now call it like my inner coach that takes control and says to the inner critic you know, I hear you, I understand it, you're scared, there's lots going on, but don't worry, I've got this, we're okay, you know, and I'm developing this new voice, which is not like a higher self, it's just like a coach voice and that's really helped. And and I think the inner critic, the root of it is probably shame and and fear. So it's my, you know, it's my own inner landscape. That's been the hardest thing that's beautiful, joe.

Malcolm Stern:

I hope that the whole session has been beautiful. I've really appreciated you coming on this show and sharing with us, and thank you so much and we will connect soon. Thank you very much indeed.

Jo Berry:

Thank you so much, Malcolm. Let's meet soon.

Finding Peace Amid Tragedy
Transformative Friendship and Empathy
Creating Space for Impact and Collaboration
Impact and Forgiveness in Belfast
Inner Coach Conquers Inner Critic