Jummah Reflection | Proximity Is Not Peace

Jummah Reflection | Proximity Is Not Peace

Jummah Mubarak, Shabbat Shalom & TGIF.

This week I wrote a piece for Tablet Magazine about the need to take our interfaith work to the next level. To go beyond the kumbaya-touchy-feely-hummus-and-holiday engagement. As my friend and colleague Rabbi Susan Lippe says, we need Interfaith 2.0.

The truth is that we activists (interfaith or otherwise) often try to build peace and cooperation through Co-Existence. Our primary mode of activism is getting people together and focusing on the things we have in common, and completely ignoring difficult conversations and ongoing conflict that simmers beneath the surface.

When I spoke with Kameelah Rashad about using her quote for this piece, she introduced me to a concept from psychotherapy which I’d not heard of before: Pseudomutuality:

(in psychotherapy) an atmosphere maintained by family members in which surface harmony and a high degree of agreement with one another hide deep and destructive intrapsychic and interpersonal conflicts. The family acts as if it is close and happy when in fact it is not.”

My immediate thought when learning about this concept was my trip to Jerusalem. In fact, one of the most surprising things I discovered when I visited Israel and Palestine is how intimately the two peoples live with one another, their lives woven together through millions of tiny interactions each day. And yet, as anyone who has visited the city of Jerusalem can tell you, simply placing people in proximity to one another isn’t enough to humanize and develop empathy between them.

Consider, too, the social and political morass that has rapidly emerged from American society over the past decade. We’ve long touted our ‘melting pot’ status to the world, celebrating all the diversity of our country living together in harmony. But now we see that unity rapidly devolving before our eyes–not because our reality has changed, but because that unity we were so proud of wasn’t really there in the first place. The veneer of unity and American multi-culturalism was just that–a veneer that placed a pretty ideal over the top of centuries of racial, political, religious and economic conflict.

Hard conversations have to take place for peace to emerge out of a cycle of conflict. We can’t ignore the legitimate grievances of people who are often carrying generations of pain on their backs. We also must find healthy ways and safe forums for those conversations to take place. Where the humanity of all people who are invited to the conversation is respected and valued.

Much of the conversation around ongoing conflicts happening in America or around the world are happening on social media. But the platforms of social media are agnostic tools, and rightly so. It’s up to us to find ways to use them for a better purpose. Certainly the ‘wild west’ approach we’ve seen up to now, with public threads that devolve quickly into name-calling and accusations are not the appropriate medium. But I don’t think (as others have suggested) that peacemaking cannot or should not be done online.

A couple years ago I presented to more than three hundred Jewish & Muslim women at the Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom conference on the subject “How to Talk About Israel and Palestine Online (Without Losing Your Mind).” I encouraged the audience to develop skills that will help defuse hostilities and humanize all participants during online conversations around difficult topics. However, understanding how to control your personal responses to hot topics is only a piece of the work that needs to be done.

I believe we need leaders who can create spaces online using social media tools, and who are trained to facilitate discussions that matter. We need a proactive approach to finding people who can have these conversations in digital space, and cultivating community around them. As a social media professional, I’m working to develop a program that will do just that, and I look forward to inviting your participation later this year.

Earlier this year, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a public announcement that his company was changing their mission statement to: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” At a conference in Chicago he said to a live audience of millions:

“For the last decade or so we’ve been focusing on making the world more open and connected. But I used to think that if we just give people a voice and help some people connect that that would make the world a whole lot better by itself. Look around and our society is still so divided. We have a responsibility to do more, not just to connect the world but to bring the world closer together.”

The days of pretending everything is ‘just fine’  here in America, and all over the world, have run their course. The internet has given us a magnifying glass and an opportunity to inspect every nook and cranny of our respective societies. It’s also given us the opportunity to communicate across lines that were otherwise impenetrable.

Yet, the real work of having the hard conversations that matter isn’t something we can outsource to technology. Technology is a tool, and we must adapt it to our needs and learn to use it for the greater good. This is not Facebook’s job. It is our job, as leaders and peacemakers. I look forward to working with those who are ready to meet that challenge, online and off.