As the bombings and shellings continue in Israel and the Gaza Strip and the human toll rises every day, those of us who devote ourselves to building peace and relationships of respect and appreciation between religious communities find ourselves faced with a profound crisis. In situations where opposing viewpoints threaten to divide people and communities profoundly, leading even to physical violence far from “ground zero,” what is our role? Where do we stand? What can we say?
In the contemporary world of instant “communication,” the ease of posting one’s opinion, stripped of subtlety by limits of time, text, or twitter, coupled with the anonymity that the net often provides, makes it easy to “weaponize” our words, as Rabbi Joshua Stanton warns at the Huffington Post. He writes, “…to weaponize our words only reinforces the conflicts themselves and increases the harm that they do. Our opinions might rightly be deeply held, but our choice of words can be one of our most important deeds.”
Perhaps more than at any time we are called upon to exercise the skills and attitudes that (one hopes) we have been able to develop in our encounters with one another in less fraught circumstances. We can encounter one another with the intention to learn, not simply make declarations, and work towards trust, not suspicion of one another’s intentions. We measure another’s actions by a self-critical awareness of our own actions, rather than holding them to ideal standards that we ourselves do not observe. We do not assume we know where conflicts or differences exist before listening carefully to one another. And we always make the effort to understand the others’ perspective, never losing sight of our shared humanity.*
When lines get drawn so vividly, it sometimes seems that there is no alternative. You are either for, or you are against; you are either right or you are wrong; you must choose: which side are you on? Perhaps our challenge is both to discover a third way and to lift it up. To stand in the middle and listen to both (all) sides. To live in the tension of unresolved conflict, seeking to live into a new way of being human that encompasses both.
This past week, Rev. Paul Brandeis Rauschenbush, Executive Religion Editor at Huffington Post, and some of his colleagues invited people to share “A Moment for Peace.” He wrote:
“It’s true, A Moment of Peace online may not offer any tangible results. It is foolish in the face of real war and death to expect too much from any initiative, especially an online gathering. But can we suspend our cynicism for just a moment and be a part of something positive? If nothing else, we are inviting you to take your place among those who still believe peace is possible, among those who still have hope.”
Our challenge is to find and defend that human space in the middle of conflict
*The skills and attitudes are distilled from Leonard Swidler’s Dialogue Decalogue. Although developed in the context of Jewish/Christian dialogue, the principles hold true for dialogue in other contexts, as well.
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This is the archive for the Bay Area Interfaith Connect, the former newsletter for the Interfaith Center at the Presidio .