Happy Birthday Israel!
Sarah was unable to conceive. She, devastated, told her husband Abraham that he should have a baby with their servant, Hagar. Hagar gave birth to a healthy boy that was named Ishmael. Sarah and Hagar had a rough relationship due to the status Hagar now held as bearer of Abraham’s only son. They fought. Sarah was distraught and jealous and angry. Finally, a miracle. Sarah became pregnant.
Isaac was born, a second healthy son to Abraham. Sarah, still envious and wanting her son to be as honored as a first son would be, told Abraham she was no longer comfortable with Hagar and Ishmael in the house. Abraham struggled with his decision, but in conversation with God, was assured that both of his sons would be well and strong and be leaders. Hagar and Ishmael were cast out into the desert. Ishmael became a leader of the Islamic people and Isaac is the second Patriarch of the Jewish people.
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a long entrenched family conflict. That might seem like oversimplification, but family conflict can be the most difficult and most volatile to work through. How we manage conflict is important for our own health and well-being and that of those around us.
The first thing to do is to take a break. At the height of a disagreement people often revert to more primitive defenses. We become irrational and often go into fight or flight mode. If we build in time and the practice of slowing down and taking a “time out” or “body break”, the discussion that follows can be from a much more rational place.
Once you’ve taken some time, and are able to think, then try to understand for yourself what has you so upset. Are you feeling triggered because of an earlier trauma? Are you conflating then and now? Are you feeling trapped, or abandoned, or rejected? Is your reaction to the current conflict a current reaction? Is it appropriate to what’s happening in the present moment? For example, are you reacting to something your mother said from a frustration that you’ve held since middle school? Try to be aware. Have compassion for your younger self, but also try to be in the present moment for the sake of resolving the conflict.
Try to really hear the other person. If both of you have cooled down you might try an exercise where you repeat each others statements before responding. For example: Y: I feel very hurt when you speak to me like you did last night. O: You feel very hurt when I speak to you the way I did last night. I was so angry and I felt like you weren’t listening to me. Y: You were angry and you felt like I wasn’t listening…
This method of communication accomplishes two things. It forces both of you to slow down, and it requires listening.
In listening, try not to have as your only goal that YOU will be heard. Change your focus to hearing the other person. Making it less personal will help you to move out of a defensive stance.
Not all conflicts are resolved in the way you hope. It’s important to be realistic about your goals. In families, often you have to accept who a parent or sibling is, with all their limitations, and try to stop expecting them to be who they are not. Grieve the parts of your psyche that will never be met by them and accept who they are if you want to continue to be in relationship with them.
Similarly, you can grieve the loss of what you had hoped for in resolution. It’s important to not make it the other persons responsibility to make you feel better about the outcome.
Conflict is painful and challenging. It can feel very uncomfortable to face conflict and, so, often we turn away until it is so big and entrenched that you cannot help but engage. It’s a good practice for yourself and your soul, and also good modeling for your children, to practice healthy ways of interacting, before a conflict explodes.
I can’t think of a better way of honoring the 70th birthday of Israel, then for us all to examine how we behave in relationship. Let’s slow down, honor the other among us and practice good listening.