The secret of a good story is surprise. If we know how it ends, or what happens to complicate the plot, we feel bored. There is no suspense- hence no drama.
Its the same with people intent on creating a new story with their lives, they are always open to surprise. They cherish their own curiosity and they know how to factor their ignorance even into their most defended and “certain” opinions. Stories rely on ignorance to move forward, as the unknown is slowly or suddenly revealed. People who are certain have no reason to learn. All they do is impose their dogmas on others. They are story killers.
Fellows on NSL must display this fundamental quality of life. Most fellows try their best to remain open, curious, and ready to learn but they get triggered into reaction. They sense that their identity is being attacked because someone dares to take an opposing view. They cry “Foul” and withdraw and claim that it is not fair that their views are not endorsed as the truth. If they can stay in that unsettling space long enough to process it, there is great learning on offer. But it takes work to build enough trust for people to be safe enough to feel unsafe.
Some cannot stay there. They feel so offended that others are angry and defiant. They came on a program to talk to the other side, and demand that everyone play nice. But since they come from a war zone, where one part of the team have served in a combat army, and the other part of the team have lived with checkpoints and under military occupation by their team mate’s army, it is hard to imagine how anyone could imagine this engagement would not be intense and testing for all involved. This is not a summer camp. Only come if you are ready to be disturbed.
We all have human moments we would rather forget or have to hastily apologize for. That is expected. But what NSL will constantly do is invite the Fellows to reflect on the realities they are recreating here, away from the conflict
zone. When you call everyone “a terrorist” or make casual statements about ‘being proud how you fought in the war,” and then, show no understanding why people feel offended, it reveals how trapped people are in their own version of reality.
If you come on NSL, come curious. If you find yourself immediately entertaining an inner conversation about how bad things are, or this is not what I expected, the program will invite you to be curious about that reaction. And if you can’t be curious about your reaction, we will invite you to get self-critical, because you cannot create a new story if you are not open to surprise, and if you are not allowing your own views to be challenged. If that fails, if you remain stuck in your own sense of righteousness and victimhood, and accuse NSL and your fellow members of being fools, etc then perhaps you might as well have stayed home.
NSL is always amazed when some fellows who have never been to DC or seen such a program claim to know better than the program managers how this event should be run or who should speak when. It is good for leaders to know their own minds, but it is the unfortunate habit of emperors, kings and popes to impose that mind on the will of others. Breaking that habit of power as “power over ” to become “power with” is no easy task. It reminds us how easily and unknowingly fellows can reproduce the conflict in Washington DC, thousand of miles from Israel Palestine. It’s as if the habits of war dictate that in your personal style, you always have to pick a fight and never compromise and never, never admit you are wrong.
Every year, NSL gets to see how the conflict is not only mapped on to the geography of borders and walls, but ultimately it springs from the geography of the heart.