John G Bell


Fall '02 - Hill & Gilliam

Article Responses: Compassionate Listening Week

A. Important things about ...

  1. the power and limitation of dialogue

There's a huge amount of work that comes before any meaningful or real dialogue can take place. This is further complicated if there's any kind of power inequity involved between the players, and could be completely undermined if one group has no power to force the other group to the table.

The process of compassionately listening to the Other also involves recognizing the need for compassion with the self and must start in seriously examining one's own experience to clearly identify the real Other instead of being misled by a culturally or socially expedient scapegoat.

  1. American or world society

One of the things that I've been talking about with other people in the program and out of the program in the last week especially has been about the vast history of conflict in regions like the Middle East and other places like Bosnia. There's an incredible history from which most people are insulated either by a lack of interest or by the inability of the educational system to make that information present for students. There's a wild arrogance in making a choice to support or condemn the actions of other nations or people without taking the time to think about and hear what those same people are actually saying.

The filters we have on the information provided to us are incredibly thick. These are filters that have been created with out own duplicity and acquiescence, and to look at them and blame them on everyone but us misses the point that we're partly the reason they exist. There's issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that I hear this week that I'd never heard before. For example, something that should probably have been obvious, was that there's a great deal of conflict over the sources of water, including the wells on the west bank. For every issue I've heard, there's probably 10 more that I have filtered out or had filtered out for me by the media where I hear my news.

It's also really convenient for the culture in this country to focus on conflict outside ourselves and seemingly ignore the social and economic issues at home. In some fashion, we're playing a game of distraction from dealing with our own issues. I'm not saying to ignore issues on the global stage, but that we shouldn't use that to miss the opportunity to make progress at home. In fact, I think conflict in other places should act to make people wake up to examining their local situation and ask in what ways the experience of those other people might help recognize problems locally. For example, there have been some pretty serious water rights issues in California and Oregon in the last couple years. I wonder if there's a way to think about these kinds of issues together. Of course, there's a local issue about which I know just enough to know I don't really know enough to know.

  1. these specific groups

People that don't feel secure are going to have a hard time giving up the tools they have available to themselves. This is true of the Palestinians, the Israelis and the IRA. Making ultimatums about completely disarming might be starting at the most contentious issue, and might be better left as a known issue. The real question is how to make people feel safe enough that they give up those tools by themselves. I wonder if such a thing is possible?

  1. myself

I have so little understanding of the issues in the Middle East, Ireland and even in the class struggles in my own country. To try to approach any issue without taking the time and effort to hear the stories of those involved is disrespectful and counter-productive.

B. Talking points

  1. The wrong language

p2 “A Better Way to Make Peace” by Philip Bentley

“He began by saying, 'Now let's work this out in good Christian fellowship.'”

This is something that makes me cringe. Having someone in a position of representing the leadership of this country express such ignorance is depressing to me. Given the benefit of the doubt, I can understand that the mediator was attempting to ask the participants to play fair and be nice, but why can't people talk about their systems of morals without the recourse to dogma? Not only do we not have a way to talk about interconnectedness without culling out a hero, but we lack the tools to talk about spirituality without recourse to a specific religious narrative.

It's more than that of course. It's about anything where we approach the Other and speak to it in our own words without taking the time to hear the story of the Other first.

  1. Re-humanizing the enemy

p2 “A Better Way to Make Peace” by Philip Bentley

“We had to see the human being behind any and all categories.”

p4 “Keeping a legacy of shared struggle” by bell hooks

“It was only when we began to look beyond our small circles of intimacy and fellowship that we had to think critically about the relationship between blacks and white Jews.”

This is one of the precursors to compassionate listening, being able to see the humanity in the Other. Well, that's still lame because there's importance in seeing the “being” of the Other more generally than just that the Other is human.

Anyhow, it's great to approach the Other and recognize the Being there. However, I keep thinking back to what I observed from seeing Laurence of Arabia recently. Through the entire movie he managed to extend his circle of compassion to the Other of his friends, but he was never able to develop compassion to his own Other nor for himself. At each stage he widened his circle of compassion to include the enemy of his friends, but not his own enemy. So, that just suggests that there's a journey toward the self that has to take place at the same time that one is reaching out toward the Other. If one can't be compassionate with themselves, then they might not recognize the Being in their own Other and might misidentify their own Other completely.

  1. The power of the “relatively powerless”

p2 “A Better Way to Make Peace” by Philip Bentley

“These efforts have been very local and often, perhaps usually, conducted by women.”

p7 “Keeping a legacy of shared struggle” by bell hooks

“... those of us who are relatively 'powerless' can act as agents upholding forms of oppression inimical to our own interest.”

The “relatively powerless” is an idea that's misleading. Here's two quotes that talk about the “relatively powerless” being the strong agents of change. In one case, they act in community with each other to create reconciliation and in the other they act in community to provide short-sighted support. In both cases, they are able to affect change around them. How is that powerless? Just because it's not easy to cull out a single hero from the interconnected nature of the group? That they can make mistakes? How is it that they are powerless when they have the power to change things? It's as if by not having a singular hero to target, that the effects of the group are ignored or dismissed.

It's interesting to see the comment about the forces of reconciliation are typically the culturally, internally oppressed women of the middle east. This reminds be of the talk at the potluck about the subordinate on the submarine that convinced the captain not to fire the missiles. There's something amazing how the strength to reconcile toward peace seems to bubble up into the vacuum when such events happen.

  1. Two powder kegs

p3 “A Better Way to Make Peace” by Philip Bentley

“A Palestinian psychologist spoke of how both Israelis and Palestinians have personality dysfunctions because of their histories and because of the conflict between them.”

This reminds me of the comments heard at the Compassionate Listening event, and also in our small group discussions. There's the image of two shell-shocked cultures being put together, like two kegs of gun powder. On the one side, there's the Jews coming out of the horrors of WWII and a history of persecution through the the middle ages and the European crusades. Then, there's the Palestinians and the whole middle east with a history of other countries working to destabilize and undermine the sovereignty in the area. There's history here that I don't know, but seems so important to understand. I really must find out more of the political and cultural history of the middle east.

  1. Racism and prejudice excused as weapons of resistance against the scapegoat.

p7 “Keeping a legacy of shared struggle” by bell hooks

“... it is easier to 'scapegoat' Jews [...] than to target larger structures of white supremacy.”

p3 “A Better Way to Make Peace” by Philip Bentley

“The role of victim means that any act against the oppressor is justified.”

This seems like a universal mechanism. For example, the oppressed in eastern Europe find an easy scapegoat in the Gypsy. Also in the south, there's an easy scapegoat in the African American. In the north, there's an easy scapegoat in the white southerners. The mechanism is to target the weaker group instead of the stronger group with the idea of responsibility, a way to embody the responsibility in a group over which one doesn't feel helpless.

There's something about this that suggests to me the need for some kind of consciousness about the power of groups. When people get together they can accomplish amazing things, and even operating independently the daily functioning of the world reflects the power of the web of common people in common effort.

There's a lyric from a Test Dept. song I was listening to the other day, “If the people stand together, we can blow them all away, like an autumn leaf on a river. It's so simple.” When the hell did I become so conscious of the working class experience? It is such a crock for me to think I have any solidarity with the working class.

I've been thinking about how impoverished our language, our narrative, is when it comes to collective effort, but it's more serious than that. Our culture vilified collective effort. The gains made during the 1900's, for example, by the militant labour movement, such as 8 hour work days and 5 day work weeks, are advances we take for granted but are letting erode. The Wobblies (the International Workers of the World) are rarely looked at as a powerful and admirable example of the force of the common collective, and instead are somehow the common enemy of the people in our labour histories in spite of the significant gains they helped to create for the working class.

By using a scapegoat as the safe placeholder for the oppressor, the mechanism allows racism and prejudice to be mistakenly excused and practiced as a weapon of resistance against those that should be allies.

  1. Only as responsible locally as much as one is responsible globally?

p9 “Keeping a legacy of shared struggle” by bell hooks

“Black people are not more responsible for eradicating strains of anti-Semitism in black life, than in the culture as a whole.”

How does that make sense? Isn't one more responsible for things closer to themselves? Doesn't it makes sense for one to feel, and be held, more responsible for the events and situations closer to them, on which they are more likely to be able to affect change?

C. Outrageous statement or claim

p1 “What It Means to Open Our Hearts to The Other” by Michael Lerner

“[For the Palestinians, the] ability to recount the suffering ...”


“[For the Israelis, the] ability to recount what it must have felt like ...”

The language here makes me squirm. It's strong on one side, but weak on the other. The Palestinians must realize the fact of suffering, but the Israelis only have to recognize how it felt for the Palestinians. It just bugs be that the language used for the requirements on one group is in a more passive voice and talks not about the fact of the Other's experience, but the less threatening “feeling” of the Other.