Just. Build. Bridges...do not pass go!
a big, fat and tangible fix for quitting the right v wrong vortex (plus how I find post topics)
Someone asked me on Monday how I choose what to get outraged about as I sit down to write this weekly missive. Generally I am not short of a thing or two to be outraged (or passionate) about. I was born with a backlog.
But as to how I hone my care to the singular, well, it’s about cluster watching.
Themes will often surface in clumps or clusters of three (mostly) within a few days. (You might like to read about the time Brene Brown and I discovered we both work to a “three strikes and I act” rule.) Like, it will be a lament or a phrase or a news phenomenon that pops up three times. When I spot these Zeitgeist trifectas it signals that something is going on collectively that is worth taking note of.
So I spot coincidences?
No. I don’t believe in coincidences. Which is to say I believe every single observable moment in time is a co-incidence of conflating and colliding factors. We just notice some more than others. And so cluster watching really is just that - paying attention to coagulations. As a sport. As a spiritual practice.
Let’s go to an example. Like today.
At 7am this morning a new episode of Wild was uploaded.
It’s the interview I did with the Palestinian peace broker Aziz Abu Sarah who I met in Israel and Palestine a few months back. I’d forgotten it was going live today; the schedule got wriggled around a bit.
I agonised over this interview because putting anything out into the world about this small patch of the planet (Israel/Palestine) sets you up as a target for inflamed and often counterproductive outbursting. I’m reasonably hardened to and even welcoming of constructive correction (and even some trolling). My concern, however, was to not further polarise and excite emotions around what would have to be one of the most divisive issues in the world.
Before sending the ep to my producer I triple-checked facts, I ran my intro and outro by an Arab and a Jew. I didn’t want to get anything wrong. But what was the right way to tread? I lost some sleep. I mulled.
But then I pulled right back from the proverbial cinema screen. Bah! I was doing precisely what causes conflict in the first place - doggedly sticking to ideas of right and wrong. And I was ignoring precisely the “wild idea” that Aziz gifted to me (and you) in the interview (and sorry to give it away if you haven’t listened in):
Instead of choosing a side and putting your efforts into determining who is right or wrong, weighing up death tolls and intergenerational pain levels, just help build bridges.
As you’ll discover in the interview, Aziz and other Arabs and Jews on the ground tell us cutting straight to the stuff that brings the two sides together in a room, in a business, on a football field is the only tactic that’s working. (We don’t read about it in the news, of course. Bombs and conflict make for more clickbaity headlines.)
And Aziz et al ask us (invite us) to do the same. The don’t need us to join pick sides. They need us to help with the bridges. So, for example, instead of boycotting an Israeli project put your financial power into funding Palestinian (and Israeli) peace projects (I list a bunch in the show notes).
Then I rode my bike into the city
There was wind. I was feeling dead delicate (thyroid pain; a lot of raw pain and ugly self talk). En route I listened to a podcast. I just pressed play on my “latest downloads” and up popped a Full Story discussion that featured former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating’s Redfern Address which celebrates 30 years this week. It left me sobbing as it did the first time I heard it, and I had to pull over and sit in a laneway for a bit before setting off again.
Why tears? Well, I wasn’t sure sitting in that laneway at 9am. But I reckon it had a bit to do with the beauty of bridges (and thyroid rawness).
OK. Now for the third strike.
My appointment in the city was to interview an ethicist about the Uluru Statement From the Heart (which makes me cry when I even talk of it) and the ethical argument for voting “Yes” in the upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum. The ethicist (more on this next year) gave me a surprisingly different ethical argument for supporting The Voice. It was carefully formulated to make it almost impossible for anyone wrestling with the issue to get into a right v wrong go-nowhere battle with others or one’s internal dialogue (again, MTK). It was an ethical bridge.
So a theme surfaced. Shall we now flesh it all out a bit?
What does it mean to build a bridge?
The idea of side-stepping the right v wrong vortex is familiar to many of us. But perhaps as a concept only. Or as an expansive feeling we get when it’s presented to us as a poem or spiritual truism.
There’s Rumi’s poem to this effect: Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. Oh, how it sings! My meditation Tim often says, “Do you want to be right or do you want to love?” In just the asking of the question we feel the answer, right?
Just two weeks ago I shared Bayo Akomolafe’s I Lost My Way poem: …today, when I meet people, I recognize how utterly beyond right and wrong they are – how their lives are symphonies beyond orchestration, how their mistakes and failings are actually cosmic explorations…
We get it. It’s a vibe. It’s a field thing. We know the feeling. It’s expansive and liberating. The painful path (of rigidly bouncing between right and wrong) doesn’t work! What sweet relief!
But how do we actually get there in tangible terms, beyond the vibes? The chat with Aziz showed me that it’s all about proactively building bridges. In the interview (and on the dual narrative tour he led with Danny, above) he demonstrated what it looked like:
It’s quitting the do-gooder dialogue… and actually doing something.
It’s getting over yourself… and befriending the “enemy”. Like actively going out of your way to lean into people you disagree with. Read their newspapers. Ask their advice. Listen.
It’s discussing a heated issue from the perspective of The Other (standing in your adversary’s shoes) and (key bit) not inserting your pain as you do so.
This is the most powerful bit of the learning: not inserting your pain. Aziz says he has learned to stop pushing his story when doing the work of building bridges.
When you let go of pushing your story and you just listen, he says, then a beautiful thing happens. The Other wants to know your story. They ask you questions. They lean into you and ask for more information.
I’m wondering how you might be feeling about this idea of not pushing your own story when engaged in two-sidism? Can you try to resolve conflict without inserting your POV and pain and details?
So why did I cry this morning in the laneway?
And why do I cry when I even mention or think of the Uluru Statement (honestly, it’s every single time)? I reckon it’s the recognition of the painful and beautiful truth of it all.
As I say in the outro to the podcast episode, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a microcosm of all of human nature – all of our uglinesses and our wonderful beauty; our worst most base behaviour and our best nature. So, too, are other big hyperobjects in our path today, such as the First Nations’ plight and white Australia’s role in it. They all hold mirrors up to us!
When we witness a gesture like Paul Keating’s (albeit rare) humility and vulnerability in that speech against a backdrop of ugly shame, or when we experience the generous Uluru invite and the reaching out from Indigenous People in the face of (and in spite of and out farther than) the intergenerational trauma that white people inflicted upon them…well, it’s a lot. And we recognise it all because it is us! It’s magnificent and ugly and beautiful. And so are we. And it’s a relief to realise and allow for this.
PS Before commenting on anything here, can I invite everyone here to first be aware of their own challenges and beauties, their own hurt, biases and schisms. And to be aware that obviously I haven’t endeavoured to cover off the entire conflict and all sides and all nuances. And that I don’t “have a side”. It’s a hard problem. One of the hardest. We tread openly and compassionately and build bridges. Yeah?