It’s no coincidence that I’ve chosen to embark upon this month’s column at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour on the eleventh month of the calendar year.
That it’s also the 100th year commemorating the end of World War I is especially symbolic, as I cast forth this heart-felt intention of unity and peace to those amongst us who’ve not only lost a loved one to conflict, but additionally; to those who may be suffering today from one form of adverse conflict or another.
Of course conflicts come in all shapes and sizes; ranging from the extreme where many fight to the death among warring countries or factions from within, to those on a more individualized, personal level. We’re now living in an era where discord itself has become the centerpiece of our daily conversation, seemingly with nowhere to hide.
Within our own borders, some would say that we’ve reached this pinnacle of polarization not because certain candidates have come to office and are pushing various divisive agendas (though that may indeed be the objective and subsequent result), but, more specifically, it has been precipitated by the underlying anxieties and deeply held beliefs that a significant minority of our population has been cultivating for years, if not generations.
Beyond our shores, similar unrest and ensuing conflicts have been erupting around the world with increased regularity, forcing millions to flee, seeking refuge elsewhere. Not surprisingly, there are numerous countries where the threshold for accepting these displaced populations has reached its breaking point.
David Ignatius, associate editor at the Washington Post and foreign policy analyst, recently penned an ominous piece where he asks: “What would the ghosts of 1918 – not just the soldiers who were slaughtered in the trenches of WWI, but the statesmen who failed to make a durable peace afterward – tell politicians a century later about the perilous world we inhabit today?”
For all of its advancements in science, technology, medicine and countless other fields; I’m far from alone in the belief that as a whole, our species has come up embarrassingly short in its attempts at resolution on both macro and micro fronts.
It would be rather myopic to think it’s in their best interest for those in positions of power to relinquish it willingly without a fight. There’s far too much profit to be made by maintaining the status quo with regards to conflict; if not escalating it altogether.
Nevertheless, the fractured nature of our milieu begs for some immediate attention.
For those who feel that the time is now to begin a healing process of sort, I commend you for your courage and clarity. It’s a challenging endeavor to embark upon this path of recovery, as many see the road ahead as a zero sum game: winner takes all.
I for one don’t care to be an idle spectator, waiting for a penultimate event or crisis to occur, but rather believe that there are small steps which each of us can take in an effort to reverse its course; including some “old school” practices from previous unsettling times.
It may sound a bit hokey, but during my youth growing up in a northern suburb of New York City, long before the advent of cell phones, personal computers, social media and the like, “block” parties were a common source for social interaction among those living in close proximity, yet of divergent backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions.
Unlike a church outing or political fundraiser where everyone shared a common entity, each participating family in our community would provide a dish of their favorite food, placing it upon a long table for all to sample.
Not only was the meal an incredible representation of contrasting tastes, more importantly, it became the foundation for dialogue and communication amongst neighbors who might not have “reached across the aisle” so to speak, unless otherwise invited.
Similarly, Parker J. Palmer, author and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, offers the following wisdom on this topic from his book “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life,” where he describes the authenticity required when forming what he refers to as circles of trust:
“If we want to create a space that welcomes the soul, we must speak our own truth to the center of the circle and listen receptively as others speak theirs. We must also respond to what others say in ways that extend the welcome, something that rarely happens in daily life.”
Just as some of the great leaders of our past expressed so fervently during turbulent times, there need to be bridges built to foster communication; allowing for reasonable exchanges to take place.
Dialogue among differing perspectives must be facilitated in a respectful manner in order for some common ground to be attained; therefore avoiding the constant drumbeat of us vs. them.
Finally, by identifying and directly addressing the root cause behind the fear that’s driving most conflicts, we’re taking an active role in beginning the healing process. We already know what failing to do so looks like.