Read. Learn. Understand.

December 29, 2007

As a kid, I was a big reader. I devoured books one by one, digesting between one and three a week.

I’m still an avid reader, even if my metabolism has slowed a bit. I read across genres, and lately have found myself reading novels written by authors hailing from the other side of the world, namely India, Afghanistan and China.

I find novels taking place in other parts of the world – or describing people of different cultures – fascinating. Even if the book itself is not spectacular, I do find myself able to delicately pick out bits of cultural information so that I can learn new details about diverse populations.

Currently I’m breezing through Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini‘s A Thousand Splendid Suns. His first novel, The Kiterunner, took America by storm and is about to be released as a film. I think it probably has to do with the fact that the story takes place in Afghanistan, a place which Americans associate with the Taliban, backwards villagers and war. Hosseini’s novel is colorful, historical and human.

Hosseini’s works confirm the idea that by writing novels painted with authentic culture and bits of historical events, and then translating them into other worldwide languages like English, people can start to see through new lenses into cultures not usually accessed. What the media and government hurts, authors and artists can heal.

It’s a skill for both writers and readers to do this right, because it would be too easy to fall into the pitfalls of stereotyping, generalizing or taking everything literally. But with a few grains of salt and an open mind, reading realistic and historical fiction can be a worldly lesson in other cultures, and eventually a basis for tolerance and understanding.


The highs and lows of conflict resolution.

December 24, 2007

I can’t describe the pride-swelling I experienced when five and a half hours after we began, the two disputants shook hands with each other. I think that moment must never get old for a mediator.

The tension is released during that handshake…. Like breaking the glass at a Jewish wedding, the whole room changes and relaxes. Suddenly, the disputants can look each other in the eyes… They can smile, even joke a little. And that’s the best time for the mediator to strike with the closing details.

The feminine side of conflict and management.

December 24, 2007

There are people who say that if the world was run by women, we’d all be at peace. I think they say that because we’ve never seen it yet…

But I do think that we can credit women with something incredible: Women have this ability to transform conflict, even when they are poised at the center of it.

At today’s mediation session, the two official disputants were men. Each man brought with him a woman – one, his wife, and the other, his mother-in-law.

At first, both women backed their man’s charges, adamantly and fiercely. But over the course of the five and a half hour session, both women showed hints of transformation first. I would categorize it like this:

  1. Loyalty – strength phase
  2. Panic – introspective phase
  3. Resolution – strength phase

I notice this pattern in my own relationship with my husband. Often, I’m the one who gets more riled up and passionate when he finds himself in a dispute. My loyalty to his cause usually gets him worked up more than he might normally. Together, we enter a space of conflict.

We get to the panic – introspective phase together, but I’m the one who speeds through it. The last phase, resolution – strength, washes over me like cleansing waters, and I find myself as calm – strong as I was passionate – strong in the first phase.

At this point, I think women serve as guides to cross the male disputants over that bridge to resolution. I think the women see it first and the women don’t mind bursting the bubble sooner.

That’s how I watched it happen today, and I felt like I was looking into a mirror as I watched my fellow girlkind go through these steps to management and resolution. Until today, I thought I was alone (and crazy), switching from phase to phase like that, passion to calm.

I guess that’s why people also say that women are fickle (for better or worse…)

The human tradition of mediation.

December 24, 2007

We’ve been surrounded by mediators since we were young:

When we fought with our siblings, are parents were the judges. 

When the other kids at school didn’t play fair, our teachers were the arbitrators.

When our relationships fall apart, our friends are the advisers. 

Where there is society, there is conflict, and where there is conflict, there have always been mediators, in one way or another.

It’s an age-old practice that’s existed as long as human beings have been communicating and as long as there has been communication, there has been misunderstanding. 

Today I was invited by my department to sit in on a real mediation session. I learned a lot from watching it all spread out in front of me, live:

  • It’s better for mediators to sit across from all disputants as opposed to at the head of the table.
  • Explain the process to participants and they will take the process on themselves.
  • Partner with a mediator of the opposite sex for family cases.
  • It’s important to know when to take a break and when to let the momentum roll.
  • Take culture into account, but don’t assume; just be open to culture being present.
  • Never underestimate the power of women around a negotiation table.

What I learned, more than anything today, is that it would be an honor to serve society as a mediator and continue this human tradition.  

Jonathan Sacks: Conflict Resolution in Judaism.

December 17, 2007

I attended a lecture about conflict resolution in Judaism, given by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the recognized chief Orthodox Rabbi of the United Kingdom. Thought I’d share my notes; he is a very well-spoken person with interesting views on the meshing of Israel – a liberal democracy – with halachic Judaism.

More importantly, Rabbi Sacks is very outspoken about and for conflict resolution practices in Jewish tradition. It was very refreshing hearing a religious authoritative figure discussing conflict resolution in a realistic, proactive way.

The British rabbi recognized two challenges of modern Zionism. The first, the creation of a Jewish state in the biblical land of Israel, has been completed and is considered a task of politics. The second is the creation of a Jewish society in Israel, which is a task of ethics, and so far has not come close to completion.

Rabbi Sacks defines liberal democracy as a society where people lead different ways of life. He believes it is possible to create a liberal democracy that is Jewish – which Jews have never done before. It would be based on something like halacha, but not actually halacha, for the rest of the world – where not everyone is Jewish and aware of halacha as Jews know it.

Judaism is the most individualistic of religions. That is good for surving exile – it’s the ability to stand against the majority and preserve the nation. It’s bad for the Jews when they come together as a country, where collective action and identity is necessary. As a nation of strong individuals, it makes conflict management very difficult within the people of Israel.

On the bright side: the most fundamental form of conflict resolution in Judaism amount to words, language, speech.

His basis for this is that conflict resolution or mediation is essential in the Torah and essential in Jewish history.

In Jewish history, there are three cases of collective exile and all have the same underlying reason:

When Yosef ended up in Egypt: The family of Jacob couldn’t live in peace.

After the destruction of the First Temple: The kingdom split in two after three generations, lacking in unity.

After the destruction of the Second Temple: The schisms between different factions of Jews (for instance, moderates and zealots).

Traditions of conflict and resolution patterned in Judaism:

1. Silence is the sure way to continue and prolong conflict.

2. In order to converse you have to: speak and listen. Jews are “the world’s best speakers and the world’s worst listeners.” Listening is the essence of conflict resolution.

3. Listen to the Other: Teach your opponent’s view before you explain your own.

The grand example of conflict via words in the Torah occurs towards the beginning: the conflict between Adam’s two sons, Cain and Abel. There is a statement that is impossible to translate; it begins with, “Vayomer Kayin el Hevel achiv…” (And Cain said to Abel, his brother…). After that, the statement is fractured and ungrammatical. This teaches something important: When words break down, there is only conflict.

God created the universe by words, and humans continue the universe with words: and when words fail, the universe breaks down.

Libi: Letting your heart guide you.

December 15, 2007

I came across this site the other day, thought I’d share: The LIBI Center, located in downtown Jerusalem, is a place that encourages the right atmosphere for “awareness, meditation and inspiration.” Here’s their quick mission statement:

Libi invites you to let your heart speak, listen, take action, and be passionately involved in everything you do.


Sounds like a more established version of Merkaz Edna, which I wrote up a little while ago, although the main focus is on teaching people how to meditate.

The center offers courses in several types of meditation, including courses in silent, Jewish, eating, guided, visualization and gibberish meditation. I didn’t realize there were so many types, but then again, meditation is universal across religions, societies, customs.

Maybe I’ll go check it out one of these days… and report back when I do.

Sometimes we need to laugh at what ails us.

December 4, 2007

Directly following my last post…  

“You have to have a sense of humor in order to participate on a site like this and not go crazy from the emotion and the emotional exchanges.”

Here is the result of being invited to an evening of comedy at Off the Wall in Jerusalem to see my new favorite Arab-American comedians: Ray Hanania and Sherif Hedayat.

They are reaching the end of the Israeli/Palestinian Comedy Tour, in which they have been joined by other comedians (including Charley Warady) to try to bring people together and break the ice with humor. Their brand of comedy is a nationalistic self-depracation like only Arabs and Israelis could know how to appreciate. And, although many people at the club last night were a bit tense about it, if people let loose and learn to appreciate an effort when they see one – well, humor can go a long way.

Yesterday was a great day for meeting new people with new ideas… Putting faces to names… And having a laugh over what ails us.

Here’s a list of funny videos from last night… And here are some samples: