Via Basel: Conversations, Part 1
Confrontations, Conversations, and Reconciliations
There are relatively standard stages in conflicts, whether interpersonal, community, national, or international. First, there is disagreement and confrontation, followed by some sort of dialogue, discussion, and conversation. Conflicts can be stuck in these first two stages for months, years, decades, and even centuries without a clear outcome or resolution. Mostly, however, the battling parties move on to the final stage—if nothing else, to bring closure and an element of rest and peace among them.
There are two choices here, the first being a separation and living with limited communication (a live-and-let-live attitude), such as a divorce of married couples, or larger entities such as East and West Germany prior to unification. Or instead there is reconciliation and an attempt to come to a resolution acceptable to both parties. We might consider this the healthiest and most satisfactory outcome. In my opinion, the worst is when the conflict stagnates and goes from an acute one to a chronic debilitating one, suppressed beneath the surface in a form of seething anger that erupts violently from time to time.
I am presuming that we all acknowledge that there is a significant conflict going on in our country these days; even that assumption may be controversial, but recent polling shows nearly 80% agree with it.* We actually have three disasters simultaneously: health-wise (pandemic), economic (job losses) and social unrest (race issues). I will address the latter, although they are all related to a certain degree. If you do not think that this country has a race issue or conflict and no change or solutions are needed in that area then you can stop reading the rest of my post.
The last three weeks of protests, demonstrations, along with rioting, looting, and other acts of violence going on in cities all across our nation, resulting from racial injustice and police brutality, whether real or perceived, should be enough to show that we do have a big problem. Even a superficial review of history indicates it has been going on for centuries (actually, four) with periodic large explosions, civil war from 1862 to 1865, civil rights marches in the 1960s, the L.A. riots of 1992, and of course the current 2020 demonstrations. In between these bursts there were numerous smaller ones in addition to simmering low level resentment and abuses going on continuously in a certain segment of society.
Without delving into details of causation and considering different points of view (way beyond the scope of this post), it is quite obvious the issue has not been resolved yet. So finally I am coming to my point. Because we are so integrated in so many aspects of our lives together in the United States, it is impractical, unwise, regressive, and also undoable to separate the races of the American population today. So in a way we are all stuck together whether we like it or not. The other option is to continue to ignore the underlying causes and wait for the next blowout as we have been doing for a long time. This is crazy, and I do not want my two granddaughters to grow up in such a volatile, violent, and unstable society.
Conversations, true and authentic discussions about race and privilege in all our institutions, education, business, health, religious, as well as families, are essential to shed light on the issue instead of ignoring it. These conversations will be difficult, uncomfortable, and messy but can lead to deeper understanding, insight, and a wider lens to view these complicated issues. I suggest we start small, one-on-one dialogues or small-group discussions (in groups of five to seven, to give an opportunity for everyone present to speak and express themselves). Of course, right now these would often be conversations aided by technology, as in-person conversations pose health-safety concerns. When our health issues resolve, my preference would be for face-to-face conversations.
I will attempt to discuss some suggestions and guidelines for these conversations in my next post. Only after a period of civil discourse with others who have a different opinion, and trying to open our minds and hearts to the suffering of others, can we move on to the next phase of healing and reconciliation. It is not that I am a dreamer to think that is achievable, but I prefer to try and fail than not do anything.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, and social engagement.