The lesson is never say never, and even during the darkest days, when there is no end in sight, never lose hope. A more salient learning in these troubled times: talk to your enemies; they may become â€“ if not your friends â€“ your allies.
Events in Northern Ireland this week showed just how bitter enemies can bury the hatchet â€“ or, in this case, vast caches of weapons and bombs used in a decades-long, deadly campaign against British rule â€“ and move forward for the common good.
Throughout the years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland, in which more than 3,000 people lost their lives, many north and south of the border, and in Westminster, never dreamed they would see the day when staunch unionist Ian Paisley sat down with the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, Sinn Fein, and agreed to share power in the province.
“Northern Ireland has come to a time of peace. A time when hate will no longer rule … How good it will be to be part of a wonderful healing in this province,â€ Paisley, who over the years became infamous for his refusal to deal with Sinn Fein, said on Tuesday as he was sworn in as first minister, with Martin McGuinness, Sinn Feinâ€™s deputy leader, as his deputy.
From these early days of power-sharing, for sure the road will be rocky. But the long-suffering peoples of Northern Ireland and Britain can at least take comfort in the mature, sagacious attitudes of its new leaders.
Those in power in other parts of the world â€“ notably the torrid Middle East â€“ would do well to take a lesson from Belfast.