All posts by pcostello

NSL # Rule One “Never underestimate the transformative power of individual relationships.”

During our first program back in the 1990’s with the two embattled communities in Northern Ireland, the USA ambassador to the UK was heard to make this comment. When we heard it, we knew at once it summed up our idea of social capital, describing what we are about in building a network.

While each of us can do amazing things solo, the new story we are intent on creating in a war zone is that “things are better when done together.” NSL is always about Palestine-Israel-USA and Israel-Palestine-USA.

While nations argue over borders, the global economy thrives when barriers to trade and culture. faith and technology are broken down. If you ask the graduates of the Irish and South African and Middle East programs what was the most lasting value of the program, most will say- the relationships.

Ask what that means and you will hear of Host Parents visiting, attending weddings, anniversaries, of their host sons and daughters in Ireland, South Africa, Israel and Palestine. You will hear of a graduate traveling 500 miles in Europe to catch up with his American family and his room mate. You will hear about alums coming back to DC, staying for a week, or a month or a year, introducing their partners, celebrating the milestones of their Host Families.

Never underestimate the transformative power of individual relationships.

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NSL Rule # No. 2 “You are either part of the problem Or part of the solution. You cannot be neutral And every excuse is a choice.”

This saying grew out of the Northern Ireland work where, like most people caught in ” the Troubles,” their strategy of survival was to not get involved, to shy away, keep your head down, leave it to others to bear the burden and find a solution. It makes sense but fact is- nothing changes.

The old saying is true – that “All evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

In NSL’s method, the role of the leader is first of all, to take a stand. That way, people know your values, and where you want to lead them-There is compromise- yes of course, but there is also conscience- and they cannot be confused. If one sells one’s conscience to gain power, then people sense that you will sell them out too, when push comes to shove.

A leader takes a stand to be on the side of solving the problem, and understands that neutrality is a cop out, and that an excuse is a losers way of blaming someone or something else.

Israel and Palestine is a problem saturated story, and excuses abound from every side. People mention compromise but no one mentions ‘conscience.’ And because the old story needs us as an audience to keep it alive, no one admits another c-word: complicity.

The first act of being on the side of the solution is to recognize how and where we have been on the side of the problem.

When Fellows come to DC and ask NSL- When can we talk about the “real issues”, we reply, “If that was the way to solve it, then 70 years of discussing the “real” issues surely would have got us there.” But so called “facilitated dialog” on “duelling narratives” can become a narrative trick- whereby a story with the title “Paths to Peace” spends 99% of its time rehashing the ways that the enemy has provoked war. Too many Middle East activists keep on recreating this community of blame and excuse. it’s a dead end. Just look at the record.

If a problem persists despite spirited attempts to solve it, chances are that there are hidden patterns we have created that perpetuate it. Part of that pattern is one of self-deception whereby we develop language games to deceive even ourselves. “Peace Talks”- “Two State Solution,” “Occupation,” “Negotiations,” Settlements, Road Maps, Oslo Accords, Separation Walls, etc are now ciphers for something else. Words are hollowed out. No one believes them anymore.

As the prophet Jeremish accused his people of old, “you keep saying peace peace, but have war in your heart.” Language that no longer builds trust can no longer carry the weight of truth. No wonder war has always been synonymous with lies. And this is war- that sort of ended in 1948 and then rekindled in 1967 and then 1987 and then 1992 and 1996 and 2003 and 2006 and 2008 and 2012 and 2014 and now.

When “the problem” has the starring role of the narrative, as it does in the way we talk about Israel Palestine, we have to realize we too are part of the problem. We have no one to blame. We have no excuse.

NSL wants to lead, and take a stand- we are not going to subscribe to practices that reproduce the deadly discourse of division. People will attack us, invite us into this hate and blame game, challenge our motives, but we know that its like tennis- if you don’t return the volley, there is no game to play. This takes restraint and prayer. It takes loving your enemy enough to refuse to believe he is one.

And it takes a conversion of heart and courage. NSL seeks to gather a community of conscience that is willing to own up to our complicity, to take a stand, not pick a side. We are not a community of blame and excuse. We sign on to be part of the solution. We disavow being neutral. We refuse to make excuses.

You are either part of the problem
or part of the solution
you cannot be neutral
and every excuse is a choice.

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NSL # Rule No. 3 The Listening Contract- “People will listen to you to the extent that they believe you have listened to them. Its a Give to Get-Getting a Hearing depends on the kind of Listening you give.”

NSL believes that as powerful as storytelling can be, there is an even greater power contained in the act of listening. Without a listener, the story goes unheard. To listen is a way of sharing power, allowing another’s experience to touch my own. It displays a radical vulnerability to change. Those in power have no incentive to listen if it means they risk losing their position. So power and receptivity go together.

When people feel oppressed, when they feel they have no voice, their way to force people to pay attention is often through acts of violence. That forces people to listen. But there has to be another way.The strategic challenge for those struggling for change is how to get a hearing. You can get angry, you can make a scene, you can make demands, you can argue. But while we all have a right to speak, no one as a right to be heard. That has to be earned.

In that endeavor, we must practice the Listening Contract and create a space for mulitiple voices. If when I hear you, I am also hearing that you have heard me, I am more inclined to lend an ear, to stay engaged. Ways of doing that include referencing the other’s words, in phrases such us, ” As I heard you say….” and ” When you mentioned that….”

Keep sending signals, echoes, gestures, indications that the other’s words count, and you will increase the chances they will do the same.

As an experiment, we ask Fellows to notice how many fights flare up not because people disagree but because people do not listen. And how often we are debating what we actually agree on, but only discover that when we calm down.

If NSL wants a hearing for its Fellows, it must teach them to give a hearing to those who have a different view.

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What’s the Story?

NSL is often described as a civil society initiative, or as a people to people grassroots program, or as an example of the CONTACT THEORY championed by American Psychologist Gordon Allport that argued that the way to break down prejudice is to have person to person contacts that humanize “the other.”

It can be explained in all of these terms but somehow, NSL always intended to be different. It did not want to be lumped in as “just another of those programs.”

If it is a civil society initiative, it is the initiative of the people of DC, Maryland and Virginia, Chevy Chase and Bethesda and Silver Spring and Vienna. It is not regional in its origin. It is closer to Takoma that to Tel Aviv. Closer to Rockville than Ramallah. That matters to the approach. The assumption that local in region efforts matter most is what NSL is challenging. Sometimes, getting out of the reality creates opportunities that were never possible at home. We learned that with Northern Ireland. Getting people out is not escape but the path to a more effective re-engagement.

Nor did NSL begin from a community that was passionately committed to the cause. Not at all. The community that founded NSL were recruited from the Irish and South African programs. Our ignorance was our chance to see it freshly. People warned us-“Its too complex- Stay away.” not realizing that sounded to us like an irresistible invitation.

While other programs come from people deeply invested and deeply concerned about Israel and/or Palestine, NSL started as a sharing of the Irish WIP model- stories, connection, Washington DC. It is called New Story Leadership for a reason, not the Washington Israel Palestine program.

In the last 8 years, NSL has been invited to play in this conflict territory, been suspected of motives, praised or criticized for its stand- but people have to be reminded again and again about what we are about- NSL is primarily an experiment in narrative method. Always was, always will be.

The conflict does not define our work. If it did, we are doomed because our method tells us that this is a monster story that consumes those who buy it. We don’t buy it. We feel we are dealing with people captive of a story that does not work. We are not going to subscribe. Our job is not to dive deeper into it- but get people to a different space and give them some distance. See it afresh. In narrative method, its called externalising the story.

If its an example of contact theory, then one would imagine that our efforts and all the other amazing NGO’s bringing the two sides together would together have built a measurable impact that shows up on the ground in Israel Palestine. What we see on the ground right now is a counter signal to all our efforts. Children in jail, attacks on innocent citizens, governments losing trust and credibility. It is not a picture one can boast about. it is hard to see hints of our work if it is contact theory.

NSL was, is and wants to be about stories. It wants to confront the deeper issues about power and meaning. NSL sees war as a contest of stories- and a battle over voice. All empires in history control the airwaves and who has a voice. They can enforce a view on their citizens because citizens know no better. Like fish caught in the ocean, Israeli and Palestinians do not get a chance to step out and take a longer view. An airfare is worth more than the trip if it can give someone a different view.

Change does not happen just because people learn to be nice to each other. As Frederick Douglas wrote, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” NSL is about change. It is about leadership. It is about action. it is about a strategy that says, the old story is not working, the old leaders have trapped us into their own self serving game. How do we ignite a new story and how do we create a different generation of new leaders who know that leadership is built upon service?

So, what is the story of NSL?

Yes we are a local initiative, civil society at work- but in suburban Washington. It is an exercise of American democracy and American diplomacy that did not wait for the State Department and uses unofficial ambassadors for what is best in American hospitality and professioalism.

Yes, we are a people to people program that believes that people will not connect unless we dismantle the story of the “other” that alienates or threatens. We are not insisting Fellows become friends. All we insist is that they treat one another as human beings, with equal rights and equal dignity. If they unite about the future and around core human values, perhaps they can become allies.NSL creates a treaty of trust from a local community standing ready to support the new story.

Lastly, the contact theory that has been proven to work in post conflict situations does not fit exactly for a war zone. NSL does not believe that contact alone can change anything much. Sometimes, it can even make things worse.

No. The encounter that NSL creates between Israeli and Palestinian leaders is to invite them to create a different reality here, an alternative story. it may not be possible back in their region right now. It may be unfair to expect that. But as an experiment, what we want to prove is that given the right circumstances and the right conditions and the right support, that Palestinians and Israelis CAN get on, even famously and raucously and romantically. They can recognize how they are both victims of regimes that exploit them, lie to them cheat them of their chance. Given the once in a lifetime opportunity that NSL provides, this new generation has a chance to choose a different future than a repeat of the past.

If that is all NSL can do right now, OK, but we are in the business of creating dangerous memories. Once upon a time, when Israeli and Palestinians hated each other, killed each other, a small experiment happened in Washington DC every summer that proved conclusively that this enmity was not inevitable. Things could be different. It was a small start but the new story begins “Once upon a summer in Washington DC…”

NSL # Rule No. 4 “You give power to what you give meaning to.”

The narrative approach does not see the world as solid and unmoving but as a dynamic system of meaning making, always in flux: forming- reforming, forcing and re-enforcing, dissolving and solving and resolving and contradicting. Communication is the polite term we use for creative misunderstanding. The fact we can understand one another is a complex feat of the mind.

Yet through the power of stories, meaning coheres long enough over time for words to enjoy stable meanings and for stories to be told and retold. They create and recreate the world. In the Bible, the book of Genesis tells us how the world came to be as “God said let there be light…. and there was light.” The world literally came out of God’s mouth, meaning that the story made the world from the start. God did not trip over a world and make up a word for it. He made up a word for it and that word brought it into being, like any good story.

When it comes to a war and violent conflict, people pursue their ends because they are purposeful actors and reactors. Israel and Palestine have been at war for 70 years because it makes sense. We often term horrible acts as “senseless violence” which means it makes no sense to us, but it made sense to the perpetrator. That’s for sure, Regardless of what our view on the rights and wrongs of Israel Palestine, we have to first understand that it makes sense- And then, we have to explore how it makes sense, not only to us, but to the actors and the stories that have created and recreated their reality to have meaning.

When we grasp what some of those stories are and how this dynamic system of meaning making works, we see how power works as a function of meaning. It gives rise to Rule No. 4, “What we give meaning to, we give power to.”

We grow up thinking that God and Country and Family have inherent meaning, and that they are what they mean. Then with experience, we start to realize that life calls us to be agents of our own meaning. We can decide what God means for us, or what nation means. “Consent of the governed” which is at the heart of democracy is a contract over agreed meaning.

Powers the rule over us want us to inhabit a world that we will not challenge. They want us to believe that “this is the way things are.” Its natural to give your life defending your country, its only right to shun the enemy, its always been us versus them, they have always hated us, and the government is the only protector of our rights. We face not just a threat but an existential threat.

These are all stories that only have power if we donate our meaning to them. We give them value. The revolution begins when people expose the lies, the stories that are pure prejudice and propaganda. Then the story falls apart.

In Northern Ireland, during the height of the Troubles, the mothers who were mourning the loss of their husbands and kids to sectarian violence decided that death for the glory of their people was plain stupid. They led a revolt. Change happened not because people came to a reasoned conclusion or compromise but because people took back their power. They determined that tragedy was not their business.

When it comes to NSL and the intense engagement that 5 Palestinians and 5 Israelis experience over the summer, this is an important rule. It reminds them that they live inside stories that are not working so well for the ends they want. The occupation that matters is not between the Jordan and the sea, but what occupies the space between one’s ears.

If one gives power to a story that promotes and justifies violence or uses your victim history as the defense for policies that replicate the victim history for another people, then the battleground is meaning-and what stories count. We are called to examine our role as listeners and interpreters and what we do to sustain a system that kills.

What stories do we need to create and give meaning to, that will gather enough power to create change? That is our quest. What we give meaning to, we give power to. We may not control what happens to us, but at least this much- the meaning we give it- is up to us.

NSL # Rule No. 5 “Never act into the story that your enemy is acting out of.”

The popular method of resistance known as non-violence is one that speaks to us as a narratively informed method of changing the story. and is at the core of this next rule.

War, to be a meaningful act, demands a certain set of stories populated with Victors, Villains and Victims. Villains have to be this one group,aka “the enemy” who are characterized as beyond redemption. They are hideous monsters that the world will thank us for getting rid of. When we obliterate them or quarantine them into ghettos, we are dealing with wild animals or worse, vermin. These people are not even human. That means that if they are so vile, we are so virtuous. We are defending humanity and civilization and democracy. We are the “Good Guys.” Our army is not just moral but the “most moral.” in the world. etc

So long as people play the parts scripted by the story game called “War” then it all makes sense. But what if the characters begin to act against the script? What if the villains start to act like the virtuous, and the victors are revealed as nothing more than heartless and cruel tyrants? Then the story over time unravels. It loses is power to compel.

Martin Luther King Jnr knew that all too well when at the height of the Civil Rights struggle, white supremacists had spread the fear that blacks were violent and rapacious by nature. In contrast, the whites were the bible loving, gun defending Christians merely loving their neighbor and saving the nation from anarchy. Every time an activist threw a punch or a molotov cocktail, that story was re-enforced. “See. They are violent. We have to shoot them to defend law and order. ” Every picture of the sheriff at church or visiting the elderly re-enforced the picture that the police were all good decent people.

The bridge at Selma and the scenes in Birmingham soon gave the nation a different image- of police who were angry and out of control- white leaders who were leading the violence, turning vicious dogs and water hoses on defenseless children, and clubbing clergy and rabbis unconscious while they were praying. The roles in the script of “war” had been reversed. The government sent in the National Guard to defend citizens and the story of the white supremacists no longer made sense. The activists using the tactic of non-violence had deliberately provoked violence to show who was the real threat.

In war, for the story to hold up and make sense, people have to act their part. So the way to undermine the story sense of war is to refuse to play the part that the oppressor needs you to play. Don’t act into the story that your enemy is acting out of.

He is acting out of a story that you are the threat, the enemy the one that wants to kill. You do not deserve human rights. You possess no virtue. You are an animal. He is the one defending law and order, using legitimate force to defend innocent citizens from terror.

When one acts outside that script, refusing to hate, refusing to be provoked, refusing to endure in silence, but showing that ” We will not be moved” and singing “We shall overcome” as you are thrown in jail, then you have not just thwarted the oppressor. You have started to undermine their story. You show these self proclaimed “moral forces of the righteous” to be utter hypocrites. You expose the state as the source of the hate.

ultimately, one aims to show that war is for losers. War is the force that people who have no power have to resort to. Walls are not signs of strength, but of fear. In the fight for freedom, the battle is over stories. And so this is a key rule.

Never allow your enemy to script you into his story of why he wants to kill you. Act against the meaning that legitimizes his act of terror against you.

NSL # Rule No. 6 ” The first act of liberation for any oppressed people is for them to grab back their story.” ( Echoing Barbara Myerhoff)

NSL explains its practice as the implementation of a narrative ethic whose principles include:

1.Everyone has a story
2.Everyone has a right to tell it
3.Everyone has a right to tell their story over anyone’s right to tell it for them
4.No one has a right to silence, steal, story out, or story over another’s story.

In most war zones, the narrative machine works relentlessly to gain and retain control over whose story gets told and by whom. The enemy ‘other’ must not only be rendered voiceless by assassination, imprisonment and banishment, but all efforts must be made to kill the memory. Demolish the towns, make them national parks, change the names, destroy the archives, raze the museums, kill the poets, the professors, and the story keepers. That way, one can erase the title that a dispossessed people can only claim through memory. We see contemporary examples of how in Turkey, to say Armenian genocide is a crime, or in Poland, owning any Polish role in Holocaust is unlawful, or in Israel, to mention the Nakba.

Victors know that to win the story wars, they must also ruthlessly establish their narrative of dominance as the only true history. They must raise museums and monuments to honor the mythic heroes and their triumphs. Add to these some regular rituals and feasts for the martyrs of the motherland, memorial holidays, and export their narrative any chance they can. Nation building is a huge task of myth building. Think our own Columbus or Pilgrim fathers narrative.

If any voice dares to challenge the authoritative view, you shut them down with merciless and ceaseless attacks. Enact laws to criminalize criticism and lock out the protesters. Build Nixonian Enemy Lists (like Canary) and monitor every professor who dares to teach students to think critically, and enforce an Inquisition to name the heretics.

Shut down the alternative story, whatever way you can. Deny the enemy any chance to make his case, but be sure to say that this is all in the cause of “wanting peace.” Explain you are only fighting incitement, preserving the “true faith.” Be outraged by any criticism and label it as racism. “They hate us because of our color or our creed or our race”, not because of any government policies. If you oppose President bush bombing Iraq, you must hate all Americans. The fact most Americans did too does not matter. Shut the critics down.

If it works, you have ensured that all your enemy is left to appeal to is- for pity’s sake. if you can get people to pity your enemy, the sympathizers for their side are secretly on your side. You have succeeded in rendering your victim’s pleas pathetic.

That is the way of war- every war, also called narrative cleansing. Kill the enemy-yes, but even more importantly, erase their story.

How does one counter this?

Barbara Myerhoff was working with elderly Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in a Florida nursing home when she discovered how empowering it was for them to resist their own erasure by telling their own stories. Telling your story, she said, was a claim on power. More than just remaining silent, it says ‘I can decide in the end what my life means.” Power will not have the final word. “I am more than a Holocaust survivor,” these elders insisted. We have a life to celebrate.

That is the method that NSL practices. The witness of the victim becomes an accusation against the oppressor. At the same time, it is an invitation to being heard as a fellow human being. Listening is the primary act that gives the victim back their humanity. But Listening is a dangerous act of vulnerability. If the stories are told right, they can crash through the highest walls of prejudice and hate. If they are told wrong, or if there is no true listening, then stories become hand grenades. NSL is risky business.

In this war system of Israel Palestine, the war of stories systematically breaches the narrative ethic. Voices are silenced- stolen, storied out and storied over. We aim to change that.

When young Israeli and Palestinian witnesses stand up in Congress or at the State Department, and together share their personal testimony, they are enacting resistance- making a claim that its their story first and foremost, not J-Street or AIPAC’s or Sabeel or JVP or even the Secretary of State’s or the Presidents.

Lobbyists, academics and think tanks have largely appropriated the Middle East story for their own ends. NSL declares its time for the people of the book to get back in their story. When they rediscover their voice, when they win a hearing, they will grow a power base here that sends a message loud and clear “Don’t you dare talk about us without us.”

Then policies here will truly become more effective because they are informed and impartial, the product of a deeper and more respectful listening.

NSL # Rule No.7 “Stories can imprison, paralyze or empower. Once we wake up to how we create our own captivity, we will seek freedom.”

We find ourselves in a story that explains how little choice we have- we elaborate the problem at length- that we are occupied or we are plagued with corruption and we have no economy, or, we have always been hated and persecuted by the world and we are surrounded by enemies. Its a story script we all know so well.

After we tell it, we have made our plight visible, and thereby rendered ourselves even more helpless.

The facts may be true but notice HOW we have chosen to tell them. We may suffer from some horrible misfortune but when we tell the story this way, we end up re-victimizing ourselves. The indigenous people of Australia know stories- and they believe you have to know how to tell your stories in ways that make you stronger. Whenever we tell to win sympathy, we are inviting witnesses to our helplessness.

What if the Jewish people with such a history of loss and tragedy, and the Palestinian people who suffer occupation and oppression, learn to tell their stories in a different way? Victim stories and blame stories populate the war story system and keep it alive. if the war game is about killing people and destroying things, then one needs a regular diet of hatred. War cannot survive without that. But NSL’s method is to challenge the system by starving it, refusing to be an audience to these stories of division. NSL Fellows are invited to DC not to rehash the old story but explore new territory.

That does not mean that one escapes to fantasy. Rather it is to suggest that suffering does not have to be always explained by finding fault. The Buddhist tradition acknowledges that all humans suffer and that it is meant to bring us together, not tear us apart. The sufferings of the jewish people cannot be denied and to this day, communities face renewed outbreaks of hatred and anti-semitism. That is no reason to defend a state policy of occupation and degradation of another people. The humiliation of the Palestinian people, denied their freedom and their basic human rights cannot be papered over with cliches. It is their reality. But that is no reason for them to believe that violence or perpetual victimhood is their only path to liberation.

The quest for freedom and security is seen by policy makers as a matter or armies and resources and defense capability. However, in the narrative analysis it all boils down to meaning. It is the stories we keep telling ourselves and defending to others that imprison us in the status quo.

Our stories that profess how much we want change are the reason why we have no change. We are trapped until we decide we need a new story, and begin to experiment with what that might look like. As one alumni said at our conference back in 2014 in Jerusalem, the first step in trying to solve the Middle East conflict is to stop trying to solve it. The solution is the problem. There has to be another way, and we have to find it.

NSL # Rule No.8 “Please come curious- don’t come critical, and if you come critical, come curious about why you come so critical and if you can’t come curious about why you come so critical come critical about how you come so critical and if you can’t be critical about your being so critical Don’t waste anyone’s time Stay Home. You are not ready for NSL.”

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.

NSL # Rule no. 9 “A reaction to a reaction makes for a reactionary world. A response to a response makes for a responsible world. War creates the first and is threatened by the second. “

In the last Rule about curiosity and criticism, we described the way reactions can be triggered in the NSL engagement. Reactions are those moments that escape our control. They seem immediate and automatic. We lose it.

A prominent professor from Harvard wrote a book about negotiation with a set of rules that included “catching yourself” before you get this way and telling yourself “don’t go there.” The rule looks great in theory but he misses the point entirely. Reactions take over the biology. You are there before you even know you were heading there. It could be a look, a word, a joke taken the wrong way, a rebuff, a touch. It seems to set off an explosion that is hugely out of proportion to the trigger.

Reactivity becomes characteristic of the war game that needs to keep people on edge, hyper vigilant, ever ready to defend as to attack. A kid throws a rock at a soldier and in fear for his life, the soldier shoots to kill. That is a reaction. A woman runs towards a checkpoint with a knife screaming about losing her son. That is a reaction. These two events happened in Jerusalem last year when i was there. Your friend posts a picture of a controversial figure on Facebook and you immediately write a snide comment accusing him of treacherous intent. That is a reaction,

Violence becomes this spiral because it is the reaction that provokes a reaction, in a expanding chain of escalation. The boss shouts at the worker, the worker screams at his wife, the wife screams at the kids, the kid kicks the dog. Taking a pause, responding to the reaction, interrupts the cycle.

What NSL asks its fellows to do as part of their self learning and reflection is to test out what makes them reactionary. To name it and observe it as an experiment. The famous therapist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl wrote,

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Reaction to a reaction makes for a reactionary world. Everyone is on edge, because everyone is enacting a primitive story of kill or be killed. The body thinks the Facebook comment is deadly- or the stone thrown from a mile away is somehow a threat. A response would soon show that this is dangerously crazy thinking. If you want people to hate you, treat them as if they want to murder you. Then, even if they never did, you will have provoked them into acting that way. We have to break this cycle.

Response to a reaction allows time for pause, take a deep breath. Calm your biology, as our Guest Professor and expert in trauma, Mary Fowler says or practice mindfulness, as our Guest Professor Greg Robison teaches the fellows. it is not easy, especially coming from a war zone. But it is absolutely necessary to dwell in that space that Frankl talks about. There lies our growth and our freedom.