There is No ‘Other’

During times of war and international crisis, emotions are heightened.  Outside of those directly affected, many people experience anxiety and fear– fear for the future, fear that things will not get better.  You don’t have to be in the middle of the crisis to feel its emotional pull as the global media and multiple Internet sources of streaming video play very effectively to magnify our fears.  Having left Israel in June just 48 hours before the Gaza crisis began, I saw normalcy turn to chaos literally overnight, and the subsequent tragic events have felt very real and closer to me than ever before.

I write regularly about the importance of honest communication and dialogue between executives on boards, about the importance of leaving emotions and egos behind when you are in the boardroom, and about the importance of properly managing expectations from the start of a business relationship.  It is hard to do—that’s why people are interested in reading about these issues in business.

The same rules apply outside of business, and they certainly should govern foreign policy and international relations.  As long as both sides can behave rationally, communication and negotiation should be the first step, not the last.  Foreign policy experts have urged the Bush administration to harness diplomacy and multilateralism as tools to engage constructively with other nations that hold differing views from the U.S.  Diplomatic relations should not be viewed as a benefit held back to be awarded only to like-minded allies.  It is always easy to win an argument when everyone in the room shares your view.         

When it feels like the toughest time to reach out to the other, that’s when you should.  When you are discouraged and disappointed, that’s when you should open up the dialogue and redouble your efforts to find something that both you and the other side can agree on.  It’s a start.

A friend from Jerusalem expressed to me a very simple truth:

“There is no OTHER.  The minute you think about the other as the other you lose. Jews, Christians, Hindus, Moslems, whatever … we are all the same …” 

Another friend from Jerusalem who champions the rights of oppressed minorities of all faiths expressed a similar sentiment in frustration about the Lebanese war:

I am reminded of a verse from Proverbs where this verb appears in the Bible: “Even if you pound the fool in a mortar with a pestle along with grain, his folly will not leave him” (27.22).  It appears that King Solomon (the traditional author of Proverbs), the wisest person of all, precisely defines for us the limitations of force.  The limitations of our force.  The limitations of pounding. 

So how do we create a national home for Jews in the Middle East? Through extensive and deep conversation and understanding.  Through meetings.  Through studying the Other’s language.  Through “Hand in Hand,” through dialogue.  Because there is and there is and there is and there is and there is and there is someone to speak to.  The alternative to dialogue will always be violence.  And so we must find the path to dialogue with our neighbors.  They don’t have a choice and we don’t have a choice.

I hope we find our way back to dialogue very soon and that “fragile ceasefires” take root so that level minded people who can make a difference will engage in building the future, not destroying it.

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