Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On anger and suffering

I've been thinking a lot about the intersection of emotions-- specifically the distinction and overlap between suffering and anger. Obviously, it is the very intersection between these emotions which perpetuates conflict and prevents healing-- both internal and external. Kubler Ross wrote about the stages of grief and listed anger as one of the necessary stages, a stage at which a person may become fixated and never fully recover. When talking to refugees or relatives of refugees, as well as Israelis or those who align themselves with the Zionism, I am often in the face of much anger and aggression if I do not fully agree with their perspective. In a zero sum conflict such as this one, any mere acknowledegment of the other side is often viewed as treacherous and vile. I become as evil as the "enemy" if I even acknowledge the existence of the other side. (In fact, I've already been verbally attacked for even my desire to visit Israel and the West Bank.) And I, being the very sensitive and defensive person I unfortunately am, often have to pause to remind myself that in many of these situations, the words actually have their root in immense pain disguised as anger.

The more I am faced with these encounters, the more I call into question the ability of any third party to assist in peace talks. On the one hand, being a complete third party is advantageous: it allows us to see both sides clearly. On the other hand, I cannot shake this feeling that sustainable peace will only become a reality when both parties truly want it-- and I don't just mean political leaders.  (Not to mention the fact that, as an American, I am not truly a third party.) But this is exactly why I feel so privileged for being able to go on this trip. We are not going in as outsiders to give then a solution or to "solve" the conflict for them with our infinite American wisdom (note sarcasm) but rather to learn from them- what are they doing to address this aspect of the conflict? How do they mobilize their communities in times of great suffering and fear?  We will be meeting local community leaders, activists and academics from both Israel and Palestine who work together in resolving this environmental crisis-- a crisis which will eventually affect everyone in the region.

Perhaps this will change when I arrive (and I will write about it if it does) but I do not see this as a hopeless conflict. There is an incredible ability that we as humans have-- the ability to survive against all odds and I think much of this survival is related to hope. Not to be completely ironic here, but Viktor Frankl often wrote about the impact of hope and sense of purpose on the rate of mortality (Frankl created this theory while prisoner in a concentration camp).  I can't help but think of this when I talk to Palestinians --who have endured a different yet still painful systemic oppression and human rights violations-- and yet some have chosen to turn their pain and loss into something productive for the peace process.

Though we hardly hear about them here, they exist and are growing in both israel and the occupied territories . From the Israeli mother whose peace loving son was killed by a suicide bomber to the man whose 13 year old brother was detained for his supposed involvement in the 2nd intifada , who was released a year later only to die within days of his release from injuries obtained from "interrogation", these stories cannot help but cause anger and polarization. And yet these are the very people who can (and do) stand up and say enough. Enough with the pain, violence and suffering. Enough with the dehumanization. Enough. Though now they seem to be the minority, a mere exception to the blanket rule of all Israelis are "this" and all Palestinians are "that", I have faith that soon their voices will drown out and extinguish all the hateful and extreme rhetoric.

 One organization I admire greatly is the Parents Circle Families Forum because they seek to do just that. They  break down the generalized and hostile narratives of each side by showing the conflict from a personal, rather than political, perspective of suffering. This helps with decategorization, in that it exposes the category of "other" as false through humanization,  and it also helps with supercategorization, in that it creates a bond through human suffering and experience between ingroup and outgroup members. In plain english, it accomplishes its goal by creating a dialogue on a person to person level through the telling of stories. You can check them out here: http://www.theparentscircle.com/

As one Palestinian peace activist told me, anger and revenge get you nowhere; they only bring more pain. And as simple as that statement is, I can't help but ask myself if I would be that strong. Truly, I have much to learn. 

1 comment:

  1. Much to think about in this post. Have you read anything about the inheritance of stories of loss and anger and what it does to succeeding generations? In NZ the Maori stories being written today remain, on many levels, ones of hurt and anger over what was done in the past. I'm not sure whether it's because the memory (and indeed, reality) of the loss resonate down through families, or whether it's because the descendants have now reached the stage of language and self-esteem that they can finally answer back in defence of their ancestors. It's common in all families, of course, but the Maori stories stand out because they are of a native people displaced from their own land, and in spite of their own strength.
    Be good if you could point the way to some authors in the field.