With the escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet again, in recent weeks, it makes you wonder-what would it take for real peace to be realised in this situation? I’ve seen news articles recounting how the conflict in that region has been ongoing since the 1st Century AD until the present day. Is it even possible for the two sides to ever have empathy for one another? The news coverage is so depressing and heart-wrenching-and I’m 100% sure we don’t even see the full story of any of it.
I don’t think there is a simple answer. To try and find one would also likely offend many as an oversimplification of many centuries of pain and suffering (and living in a relatively safe country, I cannot even pretend to know what that might be like).
But I would like to share a story that to me, is a small example of what it might take.
When I was in Albania helping to teach a youth leadership course, one of the units focused on attitudes and values. I distinctly remember the exercise where we asked the young people to share their immediate reactions when we mentioned certain words. One of the words was “Greek.” Now for anybody who knows their Mediterranean history, this would immediately ring alarm bells. It is another example of two countries that have had long standing tensions.
Sadly most of the responses of the young people were what one may expect. I don’t remember precisely, but essentially they believed that Greeks were mean, violent, oppressive, rude etc etc.
BUT there was one boy who, at the end of the session, piped up and said (through a translator), that he had met a Greek boy once and he was actually nice.
That one experience had made this young man question the attitudes that he had been taught from friends and family all of his life. In that moment at least, he shared with his friends a new thought – that maybe they could get along with Greek young people.
This value of empathy – the ability to see life from another person’s perspective – is definitely undervalued in talks on conflict resolution (it is often mentioned in person to person conflict resolution, but not usually in country to country wars). It certainly doesn’t solve everything, or heal years of pain and suffering. But it seems to me that it is when people begin to try and understand each other that the most progress is made.
It’s easy to say “they” should do this and point fingers, give lectures, write blogs etc – but much harder to do in practise in our own lives. Maybe we can start with us – where do we need to try and understand another person’s perspective? It’s one of the keys in cross-cultural communication, but also in so many areas of life: a critical support pillar of a collaborative bridge.
As the Black Eyed Peas once asked, “Where is the Love?”