We want peace. So why are we making war?Nov 16, 2023
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ― Stephen R. Covey
What does this quote have to do with peace and war? Everything.
We can find evidence to support any side of an argument. And we seem only capable of hearing, or finding credible, the side that we believe in, which is mostly based on who got to us first (our family, our culture), and who we’re exposed to.
We also have a tendency to mistake first hand experience as universal truth.
The opposition is inaccurate to us, comes from bad sources, and is easily dismissed as uneducated, angry, and misinformed. The internet didn’t invent the echochamber. Before its advent, we had already been insulating ourselves with our choir through almost every choice we make, including the zip codes we live in, the people we talk to, the books we read, the shows we listen to, and the magazines we subscribe to.
Sometimes it happens: we inadvertently change our surroundings, or we experience something severe enough to challenge our beliefs, creating a stressful sort of cognitive dissonance we can’t avoid, leading to a change of mind! Then - wait for it - the evidence that presents themselves to us henceforth magically changes to support our altered view.
There are powerful examples of changed minds from the impossible. I invite you to check out the stories of Norwegian Muslim journalist and filmmaker Deeyah Khan and also former white nationalist Derek Black. In both instances, change didn’t come from a few heated debates, chucking information and fear based evidence at each other. Change happened by getting to know and being genuinely curious about the person of interest first, and asking direct questions to understand who they are as fellow humans instead of how they could be such monsters. Khan was that for neo-nazi’s Jeff Schoep and Ken Parker. Orthodox Jew Matthew Stevenson was that for Black.
This isn’t exclusive to racism. We could be talking about any of the issues that have come up over the last decade that continue to deepen the divide amongst us. We could be talking about our own personal relationships.
Instead of listening, we cancel and label each other, effectively ending dialogue. We have become thin-skinned. People aren’t people anymore, they are the labels we put on them. We become so offended that we drop friends we’ve known and loved over a position on an issue instead of trying to understand and respect that they have their history that brings them to their conclusion the same way we do. The irony is, no matter the issue, both sides want the same thing: peace, and what they believe to be the right thing. What this means is that solutions are possible. The biggest threat about the way we are today isn’t that we walk away righteously unresolved. It’s that we walk further away from any chance at peace. War grows from the inside out. So does peace. Every one of us contributes to one or the other.
What I have recognized over the years is that people feel safe to have honest discussions, not because they’re in an echochamber, but because they know they will be accepted despite massive differences in opinion. The key element that exists in the latter is called unconditionality, which we all yearn for. It opens us up to a deeper heart level. Listening and understanding happens. And when two people can see each other through seemingly irreconcilable differences, they may begin to like each other. The natural next desire is to figure things out, to learn, find the solution, and to make sure each other is cared for. As Marie Forleo says, everything is figureoutable.
Success relies on THIS: Your agenda can’t be to make yourself heard but to hear the other person. In doing so, you will eventually get heard through divine intervention, because you showed up for the other. Reciprocation is a natural human tendency. This practice may require some self work because so many of us would prefer to be heard, or at least be given equal time, rather than to give up the floor for now. The sweet part about asking genuine questions, fully listening, and giving some the platform is that you get to learn. A LOT. You think you learn a lot now? Get to understand someone you don’t understand. This is not about condoning bad behavior. It’s about understanding the context, tapping into compassion, and knowing how to navigate from a more cooperative space ripe with potential.
What about when someone’s beliefs can create harm?
They are already braced for judgment when they know you’re on the other side. And so are you. They won’t thank you for trying to make them wrong and then stop causing further injury. Neither will you. You both naturally dig your heels deeper. When we harm someone by exuding judgment, they take in that harm and need to dispose of it somewhere. If not back at us, then someone else, most likely in the direction they were already causing harm.
This notion of continuing to yell at someone until they get what we want them to get when they’re not listening is what we call magical thinking. It’s critical for the benefit of humanity to stop. this.
There’s not a world where someone wanting peace pummels a bully in the name of peace and justice, and then peace emerges. It could seem like it for a moment, but in reality, the bully that was just put in his place is humiliated, stewing, and waiting for the right time to hit back. It will almost look unprovoked when he finally does.
As long as we seek to make things even, to come out on top, and wrong the other, we contribute towards hate, division, and war. Peace has a chance when we add peace to the world by working to genuinely understand and acknowledge other realities. In doing so, we can think, speak, and act from a more effective place. And, as the law of nature would have it, the other realities begin to see yours. When this happens, the need to reconcile these conflicting beliefs becomes the larger call.
This is not to say that we condone things that stand against our highest values, or to stay silent when the world absolutely needs to hear your voice. It’s to say that it matters how you treat your ‘enemies’. Judgment and hate breeds judgment and hate no matter which side you’re on. There is no solution in division. We don’t win when others lose; this causes us to have to sleep with one eye open, and that is not peace. We win when we find a way to come together. We are stronger together. Yes, there needs to be accountability: that’s part of coming together, but it’s different from punishment and vengeance. One is peace, the other is war. Black has found a way to hold himself accountable. He understands the immense harm he put into motion. He got there by way of friendship, extended by an Orthodox Jew and his circle of friends from his college campus. This story, and the story of Deeyah Khan befriending the neo-nazis, isn’t an anomaly as much as it is a show of what’s possible. We’ve tried it the other way for centuries, and the truth is, fighting against hasn’t worked. War begets war. Peace begets peace.
I don’t understand the logic behind bombarding the world with facts as a way to convince, as if the other side isn’t working with their own facts. Facts in themselves don’t change minds; they serve to confirm what we already believe, or where we already want to land. I believe the solution to making connections and peace lies in asking questions instead, in seeking to understand the other, and to show them the caring, kind, moral human that is you, until they can’t help but respect your viewpoints and desire a way to be right together.
Think that’s hard? What’s happening right now is hard. What makes this feel harder is that we’re not used to it. We don’t want to bother. We think they’re a lost cause, unredeemable. Remember that war seeks to turn humans into objects - into others - so that we can sleep at nights, justified, when we hurt them. We need to turn everyone into friends again, to know what music they listen to, and what their deepest values are underneath any slogan. We can begin with the next person who disagrees with us.