Human Stories

Beyond Polarization

Hey everyone,

As some of you may know, I am creating a podcast/YouTube channel called ‘Beyond Polarization,’ which aims to facilitate dialogues among individuals with opposing viewpoints. In this initiative, and in life in general, my task is to fall in love with the message of both sides, a task that can be challenging given that me too, I have opinions…
How can we connect with people who hold different opinions from ours, whether they are our partners, friends, colleagues, or strangers whose viewpoints concern us? And honestly, why even bother?

In an exchange I had with an Israeli woman, she expressed two opinions that I did not agree with. She said: “Hamas are not ‘freedom fighters’; they are ‘terrorists’ as defined by all international laws, and dismissing this is dangerous,” and “The Israeli Army has never attacked, only protected.”

My inner voice immediately urged me to correct her and attempt to convince her otherwise based on the information I have and my own human sense of the situation. I’m glad I didn’t respond in that manner. I have countless memories of responding by correcting people, trying to convince them they are wrong, attempting to show them that their information is partial or incorrect. In 99% of those dialogues, it simply did not work out as I had hoped. Instead, I would end up leaving the conversation feeling painfully alone, dissatisfied, and with a lingering sense of ‘fuck you’. Every conversation that ends with a ‘fuck you’ leaves a scar on the spiderweb of human connection.

‘Trying to convince’ tends not to work:

→  Resistance: Imagine the core motivation of the person in front of you is to prove you wrong. How open do you feel now?

→  Aloneness ≠ togetherness: Opinions aren’t about having the right information (which we’ll never fully possess), but about the needs hidden beneath them. If I don’t meet people on the level of the core values their opinions try to serve, they’re likely to defend themselves as they feel profoundly alone in holding something dear and precious to them. For instance, imagine my partner says, “It’s very important for our 5-year-old child to sleep in our bed.” I disagree and show her articles disproving her point while also expressing annoyance at how naive she is for trusting her spiritual, non-scientific friends. In doing so, I risk her feeling very alone and in pain. Yet the heart of the matter is that she cares deeply for the healthy development of our child! And guess what? So do I! It is in this shared concern that we are united as a team, pointing in the same direction.     

‘Convincing’ is winning a battle but losing the war. By refraining from trying to convince people, I shift my focus to something that is much more important to me than winning a single battle. Beyond even the subject matter; it’s about building a foundation together that can resolve already now millions of future conflicts. It involves creating a safe ground for us to coexist.      

So when confronted with someone holding opposing (or even frightening) opinions to mine, I direct my focus towards building a sense of teamwork. And why do I find it essential to focus on teamwork? Because of ‘Interdependence, cooperation & urgency’:

We share one planet, residing in an interdependent world where the well-being of others is interconnected with my own. Every action a person takes impacts my well-being; see the repercussions of one person in China attempting to eat a bat on a Sunday morning in November 2019…Cooperation on all levels of existence is paramount, especially in light of the urgency of our times: Humanity is confronted by global challenges like climate change, artificial intelligence, and the threat of nuclear war. We are on the brink, uncertain whether we will flourish or face extinction.

The way we all fight against each other, while the planet and the intricate web of human connections bleed, mirrors the situation of the two divorced parents I mediated this morning. They came to me after a long, fruitless battle in court; They recognized that the one who suffers most from their endless conflict is their beloved 4-year-old son. It was incredibly meaningful to establish a simple line of communication between them, ensuring that they could express themselves, be heard, and understand each other. It didn’t take long for them to start making decisions together that benefited them both (and surely the three of them). For me, it was beautiful to witness: two people cooperating to provide the utmost care for their cherished child. Similarly, I dream of seeing people valuing care for the human fabric of connection more than the issues at hand. Cooperate beyond polarization.

And I anchor myself in this simple realization: ’I am not God (yet)’

I hold my opinions very lightly because I am clear, I am not God; I do not have the capacity to definitively know what is right, wrong, better, or worse in the long term. I do not possess absolute truth. Our knowledge is constantly evolving.
For instance, I used to consume beetroots and spinach daily, believing them to be very healthy as taught by Popeye the sailor man (for those of you who were born in the 1970s or earlier). However, last year, I learned that these foods were likely the cause of tendonitis that prevented me from walking for several months due to their high oxalate content (which, obviously, I am also unsure whether it is indeed the cause or not).
Another example, I stopped eating breakfast twenty years ago, despite numerous individuals insisting it was unhealthy because breakfast is presumed to be the most important meal of the day. However, my body simply does not crave food in the morning, so I continued this habit. Over the past two years, many people have praised me for not eating breakfast, saying, ‘Wow, you’re doing intermittent fasting, cool! So, is eating breakfast good or bad? It depends on when you are asking, while honestly, no one knows for sure.

Yes, I have opinions (thoughts), yet I hold them very lightly:

 →  I have deep concerns about labeling someone as ‘terrorists’ (which is bad) and another as ‘army’ (which is fine).
Yet I also feel very scared about things the Hamas is doing and their ideology. While I have some thoughts, feelings, and intuitions, I have absolutely no clue what the right thing to do is.

→  I do extensively read and hear from a wide variety of sources about the decisions made by the Israeli government and army, and it often leaves me feeling sad and scared. I don’t perceive it solely as protection.
However, truthfully, the news and information are so partial and biased, and I have little to no clue about what’s true and what the right course of action is.

So here is what I replied to her statements: “Hamas are not ‘freedom fighters’; they are ‘terrorists’ as defined by all international laws, and dismissing this is dangerous,” and “The Israeli Army has never attacked, only protected.”
→  I said: ‘I guess it deeply worries you that if they are not named as ‘terrorists,’ it creates the space to accept such actions as those on the 7th of October, and generally, to accept anti-Semitism as being okay?’

She cried. She shared that she grew up with a father who spoke Arabic and had very good connections with Palestinians. She grew up with this image of connection between the nations, and the events of the 7th of October shattered her dream of peace. She cried again. She cried about how scary it is to witness certain actions against Jews today and the fear that antisemitism might grow and spread again.

I was touched and felt tons of compassion. I am so happy I did not try to convince her.
I so value staying together in it.

And for those of you who are thinking now: ‘YES, but you cannot just stay silent and let people continue believing dangerous things!’
I breathe. It’s tempting to revert to thinking that my job is to convince her to change her mind. Then again: I am not God, I sit with my own fears, I mourn (‘Mourning’ is the process of accepting reality as it is—to meet her as she is, rather than focusing on how to change her). And I want to cooperate also with people who think very differently from me. I want to stay together. I take another breath, grateful that I let her be herself and that I am contributing to the very quality of togetherness I want to live and create on this planet.    

With much hope for cooperation at all levels of existence,