I’m part of many different professional tidepools, each with a group chat on Signal or Whatsapp. The Israel-Gaza conflict has surfaced in these spaces over the past month with layers of aches and perspectives. The personal and collective histories like a messy bundle of electrical wires: inextricably enmeshed and full of charge.
While Israel and Palestine isn’t the land of my ancestors, my elders experienced identity-driven geopolitical conflict alongside the fear, anger, hate and violence it generates. Their forceful expulsion from their birthland is full of stories of slaughter. I was also raised in a beautifully plural society and have experienced the turmoil that sometimes rears its head in true diversity. I’ve seen the nature of individual and collective conversations we have with each other during such times.
Our first step is ususally to share and explain our side. If we are genuinely and fully met in our grief, we feel more secure stepping out further to try and understand the other side. Most conversations get stuck at the first stage because we don’t typically acknowledge another’s pain in public (or private) discourse. We also shy away from acknowledgement because it invites action of some sort; which may be unclear, hard, or even impossible.
So the spaces for shared sense-making—where people bring in their deepest emotion, truest thoughts and questions, with a desire to shape a healthier future—are rare. This shared sense-making is hard enough face to face with people we love and issues we have known about all our lives. It’s even harder in group chats or social media with people and issues we know little about.
Although we all sense that group chats are a choppy tool for perspective sharing and sense making, we have the constraints and tools that we have so we engage. And like most spaces, a few voices step into the circle to share, some with more comfort and assertion than others. Whether we are inside the circle or silent on the periphery, we listen and digest. We learn about human nature and our own nature by coming to terms with our comfort, discomfort and boundaries. We gain a sense of how we like to learn and engage. We create perspectives about ourselves, people groups, and whole cultures. Often without realizing, we veer towards hope, helplessness or cynicism. All these become muscle memory.
Then one day down the line, even if we stand quietly in this conversation, we will step inside some other circle and share our thoughts. We might do this with nuance or binaries, with an attitude of sensing or ripping apart another’s perspective. One thing is for sure, how we behave when we enter that circle in the future will be guided by who we are becoming while on the sidelines today.
“At our best, we serve as inadvertent triggers for each other’s eventual illumination.”— Mark Nepo, Poet
PS: This is a good one about not having a hot take on everything, which forces us to have a definitive stance on issues when first a posture of learning and inquiry is better suited— Pick a Side. Pick a Side. Pick a Side. Now.