Agreeing to Disagree: Rage, Religion, and the Rupture of Compromise

Children grow up in neighborhoods all over the world playing beside other children, slightly different but mostly similar to them.  Perhaps not so much in the States.  In the United States, neighborhoods exist upon a socio-economic and racial continuum. Economics are a factor for separation equal to race. Like keeps with like.

But in places like Palestine and Israel, neighborhoods are pressed for space. Everyone eats the same things and the population runs the gamut of skin color. Fertile land is scarce.  Kids kick balls in the alleys and eat together in the shops until puberty. After that…it’s different.

It’s no surprise that young people crave ideology. For centuries, from Socrates on, the wise elder has guided the youth in examination of self and often against the grain of his contemporaries. Hence the hemlock drought. Kill the wise man. Push the status quo. The young are quick to adapt. It is the very essence that drives youth. But the quest for meaning can quickly turn violent without practical applications of this meaning.

It’s the rage…against the machine, against the state, the dying of the light, against one’s own self. In all its forms it is made manifest. It is that last rebellion before the resignation of adulthood. Responsibility to family and the perpetuation of the ideals adopted in turbulent youth pressed on children of their own.

The Days of Rage in Jerusalem, the violence and the inevitable emotion are grim. The calls to Intifada and the demonstrations; the police presence on the street and barricades to keep people apart send the very messages that encourage further separation.

Who am I to judge any of it? As a mother, would I not strike myself upon the ground and beg vengeance from anyone willing to provide it as well? I would! I can’t deny that my children, the gravitational pull of my entire life and world…I would demand retaliation. And that feeling, it’s initial fierce passion will burn hard and bright. It will burn the world down.

The elders guide the youth. Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or Jew, the wounds of centuries are slow to heal when they open to bleed with each new day. Forgiveness is difficult. It may be one of the most difficult things that a human being will ever accomplish. Forgiveness between nations seems almost insurmountable.  But it isn’t impossible.

tank_man_wallpaper_jxhyI’ve read about Kent State and what happened there. I’ve read about Tiananmen Square. China blocks any access to accounts of it to this day, so great was the power of its message. Arab Spring gave birth to Isis. The list is long. Youth drives revolution. The German Workers Party (ultimately the Nazi Party) capitalized on the ideological prerogative of it’s youth and furthered its agenda to barbarism. Barbarism begins at home, after all.  

We have a responsibility to examine these principles that drive us and reflect on the ideals that lead us to impose our will on others. These small crusades waged in the name of good according to an individual yardstick (or even a few)  cannot possibly translate in every instance and why should it? What is good for an individual is not necessarily good for the group. Taking the long view of history is difficult when one is in the passion of the moment. If history proves anything it proves this: We all have the potential to be wrong and, more than likely, we are definitely wrong.

It is hard to resist the allure of one’s own exclusive experience. We want to justify our worldview. The hardest thing in the world is to examine preconceived notions and negate them. It is cognitive dissonance and most people (even good people) cannot reconcile this. Michael Faraday, a self-educated, 18th century English scientist said it best when he stated that “it is right that we should stand by and act on our principles, but not right to hold them in obstinate blindness, or retain them when proved to be erroneous.”   

Those who can accept the dissonance and work to guide our youth through the minefield of misplaced principles with the message of peace end up dead somehow.  Historically, “agreeing to disagree” is not a human quality widely regarded. The makers of war need discord and sleeping dogs end up getting kicked at some point.

Some of the most stimulating relationships I have ever had are with people who are diametrically opposed to me in every way.  The differences were what informed and enriched the friendships and thusly my life. It afforded me an opportunity to see the world anew through the eyes of compassionate opposition. I feel fortunate to live in a country that, at least in theory, was constructed to protect the rights of speech and equality, even if we are taking our time getting there in practice.  These ideals loom large in the national consciousness and promote the inevitable changes that are required to achieve it. I don’t presume to know what looms in the national consciousness of the citizens of Jerusalem. I can try to empathize with both sides. It’s not much but it’s something and something is better than nothing at all. Something is a start.

I once tried to explain to my tía, a fervent Republican Evangelical, that I am not going to believe in the same way she does. The reason is simple. My life has led me down a very different path and I have found contact with very different people. I can’t be like her, believe like her, because I am not like her.  My love for her did not alter. I do not respect her less. I have simply had a different life. My existence does not negate the value of hers. It’s just different. She hasn’t spoken to me since. I still stand by my word. I can have love and respect for a person I don’t agree with. That is a fundamental flaw in the revolution and why the responsibility of the elder is to teach compassion first or violence always.

Image Credits: Israel & Palestine by Rusty Stewart

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