The heels-dug-into-cement vitriolic polarization. Unrestrained hostility. Endless personal attacks and accusations choking every conversation. It’s what happens when hate marinates over generations. The endless heartbreaking pictures. It’s overwhelming, and we’re making it worse.
When we decide to post and share the articles about the Israeli member of parliament who believes that Israel must murder Palestinian mothers, or the one about the Israeli scholar who sees rape as a reasonable tactic of deterrence, or the video of Palestinian daycare workers abusing their own children, we are making a dangerous choice. Yes, those things exist. Darkness and extremism exist everywhere in the world. And yes, we should be horrified by these things. But what is it that makes us share the worst and most extreme cases of ignorance and depravity instead of focusing on signs of the common ground we so desperately need? Those signs are out there. Is it truly just “human nature”? Why do we allow ourselves to steep in such overwhelming pain when there is clearly so much work to be done? The conversations we have matter more than we think.
When we share stories like the ones above, we are making a choice about the conversations we want to have. We are deciding to spend our time standing in judgement – basking in the comforting glow of moral superiority – instead of spending our energy pursuing avenues of common ground that might actually help put an end to the violence and to the circumstances that create such extremism. I understand the impulse to highlight such clear injustice, but choosing to focus on what dehumanizes us to each other moves us in the wrong direction. Right now, on social media, we are complaining about the impossibility of rational discussion while we participate in making it worse. We cannot shame our way to peace.
It’s easy to rationalize that sharing things we find shocking, that seem to reinforce a belief we already hold, can potentially shock others into sympathizing with our cause. But most of the time it has the opposite effect. By and large, instead of inciting people to action in support of our cause, these posts betray our own bigotry, our own impulse to dehumanize, and incite uselessly aggressive comment wars that ultimately deepen the divide. We lament the horrors of the conflict while driving people further away from each other. We are doing this to ourselves.
For many who do not hold positions on one extreme or the other, the easiest course in response to this trend has become silence. In the face of such hostility, the space for rational conversation and debate has been completely suffocated. But this is exactly the time that prying open that space is most important – that silence is the most destructive. Families continue to die. And around the world we feel paralyzed to stop it. We are not paralyzed, and what we talk about (and how we talk about it) effects how we view the possibilities for change. We have a choice.
These conversations matter. Yes, we need action. We need to pressure those in government who claim to represent us when they clearly do not. Yes, we need to organize ourselves and strategize ways to end this violence. But in the midst of these necessary actions, we cannot forget that our conversations, our narratives, and the stories we tell are what create the space for those changes to take place. They serve not only as a space for working toward reconciliation, but also to remind us that the reconciliation we seek is truly possible – even in the midst of what seems like pure madness.
Violence porn doesn’t solve conflicts – the photos of Gaza have proven this to us beyond all shadow of doubt. Neither does holding up the extremist views of others as proof of our own moral high ground. But building community and focusing on what can move us forward does. If we continue to focus on what we despise, we pave the way for the rationalization of further violence. If we are truly seeking resolution, then it’s time to ask ourselves which conversation we want to be having.