I recently attended a showing in my hometown of the documentary film "Promises." It illustrates life stories of Palestinian and Israeli youths in the Middle East who are grappling with understanding the process of peace for their region.
The film opens with interviews of young people from both sides of the conflict and closes with a meeting of some of them to discuss the potential for greater connection and understanding between their people. It was the first time for all of them to meet someone from "the other side." Heavy restrictions at the border crossings prevent travel, making it difficult to get to know one another.
Often in conflict situations we put up borders in our thought that keep us from truly listening to others. Even as we know the importance of being open to the other person's ideas, it can sometimes seem incredibly difficult, and we may not even be aware of what keeps us apart. Watching these young people share their stories and learn about each other kindled in me a conviction of hope. If they can overcome decades of entrenched beliefs passed down from generations to find a willingness to learn about each other, it is possible for others as well.
Learning to listen beyond my own perceptions was one of the most challenging aspects I had to learn in my studies of conflict resolution. Simply trying to understand the other person in a conversation rather than thinking of what I was going to say next taught me to appreciate where others are coming from, even when I disagree. Since this time, I have still found it difficult at times to listen fully before adding my perspective, but I have seen how a willingness to work to understand someone else helps me find common ground.
Recently while studying some of the writings of the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, I came across this passage: "... man's possibilities are infinite, bliss is eternal, and the consciousness thereof is here and now ..." ("Miscellaneous Writings, 18831896," pg. 330).
Knowing that there are infinite possibilities available to us brings a freshness and vitality to our relationships and moves us out of old patterns of thinking.
The borders we create between people and within ourselves are reflected in these repetitive patterns of thinking and action. Just as easing restrictive borders may be needed for Israelis and Palestinians to work together, the borders in our own thought must soften to open our thinking to new possibilities of loving ourselves and others. When we put up borders to defend ourselves against painful memories, they remain until we are no longer afraid of these experiences.
If past events, the splitting up of a relationship, the death of a loved one, or disappointment with ourselves tries to close us off to new possibilities for good, the slightest curiosity about life as defined spiritually can stir thought into spiritual growth and lead us to define life in terms of our spiritual nature. When we begin measuring progress by the good seen rather than the issues unresolved, we will see how we are dearly loved by our God, and this will have a transforming effect on our relationships.
Many years ago when working on re-establishing a relationship with my father after years of built-up resentment and anger, I found this question helpful: What would I do if I wasn't afraid? I saw how my resistance to loving him came out of a fear that I would be condoning the behavior that caused so much hurt and pain, and that I would continue to be vulnerable to this harm. I also saw, however, that the resentment was hurting, not helping, my spiritual growth.
The day that I began being curious about what it would be like to love him without condoning his behavior opened up new channels of thinking that moved me out of the hatred and hurt. I began to see a love that was powerful, not weak or vulnerable. Today, my father and I enjoy a relaxed, good-humored relationship, and he is an affectionate grandpa to my son.
As we begin at home to drop our own borders that tend to keep us in old patterns of thought and action, we will contribute to easing conflict in the world.