I recently stayed the night in the Tower of London in the same tower as Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More. It was an enormous treat of course, but it made me think about ‘incarceration’ in the sense of separation from ordinary life. We live in an age where communication is incredibly easy – at the flick of an IPhone you can communicate with the world. Having that freedom is easily taken for granted. When I think of prisoners in the Tower or wherever I am reminded that freedom to talk to those we wish to communicate with gives us the choice of not only who to communicate with but the quality of that contact.
Although we have a very much shared humanity, we tend to become typecast by race, creed, religion, background, economic resources, nationalism and all those other facets of nature and nurture than destiny throws at us. So all of us come with our own value systems and prejudices that may or may not colour how we look at those who are not like us – so much for the neutrality of mediators! Outside the extremes of fight or flight, we can communicate our views or our responses to the views of others as we are able to do so – we are free to do so. Where conflict arises there is a tendency to adopt positional stances as we categorise these as either right or wrong, perhaps more so given our legal training where we are governed by rights and obligations. In reality most of the time there is no absolute right or wrong, but variations of the truth and of course loads of other issues and concerns in the background. The resolution of conflict is more about acknowledging and appreciating each other’s differences and finding a solution that fits. We often use the words ‘we have agreed to disagree’ but that doesn’t mean that the dialogue wasn’t constructive. You are still left with the question – well what are we going to do about it?
We hear a lot about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians about which we all no doubt have very firm views and opinions that I am not going into now. That takes me back to ‘incarceration’ where you are locking in or locking out the views of others – in other words you are emasculating constructive dialogue. If you lock the door and throw away the key, the quality of communication between you both is hardly likely to be productive. In Nelson Mandela’s years of incarceration he couldn’t have had many opportunities to communicate – I believe he talked about the close bond he developed with one of his prison guards. That may have been one small step on the way to changing hearts and minds, but it was nothing compared to the power of brilliantly articulated forgiveness and reconciliation after his release.
Locking out Jewish Israelis from Palestinian areas and locking in Palestinians in increasingly smaller areas, and the adopting of gradually more and more extreme positions destroys what Jonathan Sachs calls the dignity of Diversity in his book of the same name. As someone outside looking in and experiencing the generosity kindness and genuine humanity of those on either side, with no holds barred as to where I went and who I talked to, I really felt that this surely reflects God’s goodness. If they could be as nice to me as a stranger in their midst, what prevented them from experiencing the same warm feelings as I did. I could if I wished voice an opinion and I have many, in a principled sort of way – so I was adopting sides when I did. But that shouldn’t stop us all as mediators and facilitators from standing up for solutions over adopting sides. So out there the message should be not I am pro-Palestinian or Pro Israeli and encouraging dislike and disrespect for the other side, but I am pro-Solution which means enormous sacrifices of principle over pragmatism and energised humanity. So this blog begins with a simple plea that blessed are the peacemakers. Bring back compassion understanding and forgiveness over retaliation and incarceration.