Ronit Yarosky Reading into Discomfort November 2021
There aren’t too many givens in life. As the old saying goes, ‘The only things that are certain are death and taxes’.
But I’d venture that views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are diametrically opposed to your own make you uncomfortable. Or even quite upset.
Of course, this can be extrapolated to so many other topics: climate change; social programs; the death penalty; individual freedoms…. all topics that perhaps shouldn’t be brought up with Great Uncle Yankel around the Seder table.
But I would also venture that for many reading this, the ‘Mother of All Hot Topics’ is indeed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. More than any other subject, this one can make us go from zero-100 in 2 seconds flat, setting our emotions on fire, often causing us to lose our capacity to engage in any actual listening.
It’s not exactly a recipe for productive conversations.
So what do we do? We engage in avoidance. We don’t talk about it. We avoid those difficult conversations with Great Uncle Yankel. We surround ourselves with friends who align with what we hold true. We get our news and information from media sources that reconfirm what we believe. Even our social media personalizes what information is pushed to our feeds.
While this might make us comfortable, it doesn’t teach us anything. It doesn’t open up the opportunity to learn something new, to extend our understanding beyond the visible horizon. This is a problem. If we can’t allow ourselves to learn new things because we are afraid to be uncomfortable, we become complicit in perpetuating the status quo. We may think we have the moral high ground. We may believe so firmly in our position that we would literally bet the farm that it has been scientifically proven.
Remember when science believed the atom couldn’t be split?
In order to have meaningful dialogue, we simply need to get uncomfortable. If in your discussions or readings you never hear or read anything that makes you cringe, you simply aren’t casting a wide enough net. Because dialogue isn’t about engaging with a bunch of people who have the same opinion as you do. That is just a ‘chat’. Dialogue is about engaging with people who do not have the same opinion as you do. It is about trying to suspend judgment for a few minutes (very, very difficult!) and really listen to people you may fundamentally disagree with in order to gain insight into a different perspective – all without thinking about how you are going to respond (very, very difficult!). You may very well leave that discussion still fundamentally disagreeing with that person. But you might also learn something.
In conflict situations, our identities are often intensified and the ‘other’ often becomes dehumanized, resulting in an ‘us-versus-them’ situation. However, in spite of our differences, there are always things we have in common. At its core, dialogue is this amazing vehicle that actually allows us to hold onto our identities while making room for understanding someone else’s. It is a way to uncover those elusive ‘invisible commonalities’, those tiny threads that weave us together. Once we catch a glimpse of what we actually share and what our mutual needs are as mothers, as teachers, as caregivers, as survivors – as humans, we can begin to take those small steps towards resolution.
“That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Now go study.”
About the Author
Citizen of both Canada and Israel. Community leader in inter-cultural dialogue and social action. Co-founded award-winning Montreal Dialogue Group. Has been a senior mentor at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.
Ronit’s lived experience in the Middle East included military service during the first intifada informed the foundation of her understanding of the dire need for dialogue, introspection and the courage to question and challenge the status quo.