The situation in the Middle East – Gaza and Palestine in particular – continues to fill my heart and my head with suffering. I suffer with my Jewish, Palestinian and Muslim friends, most of whom can see wrongs on all sides; but I also suffer with the many people I know who are of neither faith nor culture yet are strong supporters of one side in this conflict. I suffer with the mothers and children caught in a war they don’t want; with families and communities being torn apart; with millions of people caught in existential angst.
I recently wrote a post on my Interfaith Pilgrimage called “Taking Sides in the Middle East” after watching and reflecting on a presentation by Brigitte Gabriel about Islam. I was inspired to write because I found Ms Gabriel’s piece terrifying. Hers a polarized voice, and her energy can only serve to polarize others in a way that I fear will lead to escalation of what is already a situation fraught with ignorance, prejudice and hate.
I argued in my piece for a middle way, for people coming together in peace and not allowing themselves to be drawn to extreme views on either side. I argued that there are wrongs on both sides, and that to choose one over the other is inevitably to perpetuate the problem. One person responded to my post with, “Attempting to choose the ‘middle way’ in these situations renders the chooser no different than the Germans who merely turned their heads to the slaughter of Jews during WWII,” and an email correspondence with another includes, “Nothing against peaceful “Muslim” people but the true followers of the false prophet are a clear and present danger to the Republic and western civilization in general. The “best” and only “true” followers are the terrorists.”
These comments are representative of those of many other well-educated and successful business people, ordinary people with families, friends, and loved ones. Sadly the perpetuation of such views not only becomes self-reinforcing, but fuels similar polarization at the other extreme as well. I believe the middle way is the only way to peace.
The middle way is not turning my head: rather it is recognizing that picking sides cannot bring peace, only conflict and war. The middle way is looking the horror straight in the eye and refusing to leap to instinctive judgment. It is trying to see the mothers and children who are affected and to recognize that in their hearts most people don’t want sides, they want peace; it is to remember a fundamental question, “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy.”
I will continue to write and talk about the wonderful work being done by a dear friend, Audrey Galex, who is living this middle ground; she is standing on the street beside Jewish and Palestinian rallies, not to support the rally or to protest against it but to offer a different voice, a different option. Her voice is that of a mother for peace, a friend for reconciliation, a human being for conversation and love. Her middle way is not to ignore the horrors, but to fully embrace them and try to work through them to find a way out of the cycle of prejudice, hate and conflict that continues to spiral and escalate. This is hard work and easily misunderstood by those who are invested in one viewpoint or the other; it is work that can lead itself to alienation and to the loss of friends (which is tearing Audrey apart right now). But to take this path is the only way Audrey can live with herself, and the only way I can live with myself. One of the respondents I mentioned earlier wrote, “Many of those people committed suicide once the Germans were defeated because they could no longer live with the guilt of their cowardly acts.” The path that Audrey is taking is far from cowardly: she is one of the bravest people I know, willing to sacrifice her Jewish friendships and community by not towing the party line but instead standing up for a deeper truth that she knows in her heart, the truth of love.
I am reminded why I wear a kara on my wrist. This simple steel bracelet given to me by a sikh friend is one of five items that are traditionally worn by all sikhs; it represents the armband worn on the sword arm by a warrior, and is a reminder of the need to defend the rights of others. It is a reminder to strive to do so in the way of peace and love, doing my best to follow the legacies of Ghandi and Martin Luther King. It is a reminder that the only way to live in deep harmony with myself is to work tirelessly and fearlessly for peace, for love, and for understanding.
I am very excited about “A New Business Mindset,” a project that includes writings, courses, presentations and a podcast/radio show. If you’d like to learn more about this project and find out how to get involved, visit the “A New Business Mindset” page of my website.