Monday, January 18, 2010

The Manhattan Peace Process on Israel and Palestine

In reading Betwa Sharma's story of an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue facilitated by Marcia Kannry in New York City, I am struck again by the failure of process. In this dialogue, as reported, a Palestinian woman< Ms. Rahsid, is complaining. To characterize a bomb attack on a Palestinian bus as an "operation," she says, is unacceptable and dehumanizing to her. Instead of stopping the conversation right there to explore this statement more deeply, the dialogue participants jumped in. An Israeli woman was apparently personally offended and the conflict cycle engaged. Ms. Kannry missed the moment. I see this so often in Israeli-Palestinian dialogues. The same cycle is poignantly depicted in the documentary "To Die for Jerusalem," and is repeated countless times wherever Israelis and Palestinians meet. What is needed are deeper skills to help these people process and work through their grief, anger, humiliation, and frustration. Facilitated dialogues hold excellent potential for reconciliation and understanding in the Israeli and Palestinian civic societies. To prevent conflict escalation, facilitators should be thinking about processes that engage participants, especially in moments of provocation or high emotion. Until we up the game, the results of the dialogues will continue to mirror the results of the political negotiations: stalemate, frustration, and blame.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Sunday, January 17, 2010

'The Empathic Civilization': Rethinking Human Nature in the Biosphere Era

Mr. Rifkin has correctly stated the false assumption of modernity and post-modernity: that humans are rational, self-interested actors and international relations is a collective of rational state actors seeking to maximize national utility. He misses the mark, however, in thinking that mirror neurons, part of the neural substrate of human empathy, is the key to global change. We humans have evolved many emotional systems in our brains, many of which are barely understood. These systems work out solutions to the environment, social or physical, that cause them to metaphorically conflict and argue amongst themselves. In other words, the human brain is not some computer than churns out answers in responses to information. It is an extraordinarily complex biological system that allows for fast adaptability to environments that change right around it. Our brains have many limitations as well, known as cognitive biases, that shape and distort how we view the world and make decisions. Our brains have a rapid response fear reaction system that causes us to judge everything as good or bad at a primitive level. Instead of hoping that our mirror neuron systems will kick in to save us, maybe we would be better served understanding how the emotional and cognitive systems of our brains limit us, and begin working on realistic solutions with those limitations in mind.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost