Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Route of Escalating Conciliation

PhotobucketHere's a nice editorial from Eboo Patel, founder of a nonprofit promoting interfaith cooperation. It states the same line I myself have been putting forth (not to say clobbering repeatedly) about how conciliation needs to occur at the individual level. I've emailed Mr. Patel a link to the Zeituna web site, a Palestinian/Jewish dialog project headed by my friend Laurie White. It's a great example, though obviously only a start.

It seems (especially this week, with the events in Gaza) as if there's no way out of the world's various escalating spirals. The suggestion that reconciliation must come from good people on both sides of a given conflict (when they recognize that they have vastly more in common with their counterparts on the other side than they with their hateful, radicalized cohorts) rings true, but it is, admittedly, pretty abstract.

But last night I had a dream. In this dream, I was meeting with a group of Palestinians. The first thing I told them was that I'd been grieving for the innocent Palestinians suffering in Gaza.

"We're also grieving for the innocent Israelis hurt by our rockets," they replied.

"Well, I'm sorry the situation has left you few options but to shoot off rockets."

"There's always a wiser and more peaceful option. We despise the cynical policy of provocation. That's how our leaders work; it certainly wasn't our idea."

"But I'm sorry the Israeli leaders are so stupid and clumsy in taking that provocative bait. Their reaction causes suffering for innocents and radicalizes more and more moderates...and creates incentive for yet more provocation. But that's how Israel's leaders work."

"It's a shame our angrier cohorts have put Israelis in a defensive stance in the first place by their refusal to even consider peaceful coexistence."

"It's a shame our angrier cohorts have done the same by callously and systematically disregarding the rights of Palestinians who've lived there for centuries."
...and so on; an escalating cascade of acknowledgments and retractions, unwrapping all previous escalations like a zipper opening, one tooth at a time.

It's not unthinkable. I used to argue with my auto mechanic, Tony, regarding his bills. I always thought he was charging too little, he thought he was charging too much, and we'd heatedly counter-negotiate ("It wasn't that big a job!" "Yeah, but I was a total pain, constantly bugging you to finish quickly!" "Well, you wouldn't have had to bug me if I'd gotten to it sooner!" etc. etc.). People do this sort of thing with each other. It's the crux of human generosity. We are not entirely rational creatures, and so there are drives besides the one compelling us to maximize our own respective positions. Human irrationality, in other words, can generate conciliation just as easily as it can wreak havoc. There are cultures, for example, whose tradition of hospitality is so strongly entrenched that their soldiers welcome enemies into their tents by night to dine...and then resume fighting by day.

Of course, leaders and governments can't and don't operate with irrational generousity - though they definitely can wreak irrational havoc. But individuals quietly can. Individuals are always kinder and more moral than groups or governments.

Happy New Year, all.

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