“Uncomfortable lessons are the ones that teach us most about ourselves.” – Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson
I offer that quote as a lead-in to what follows.
You see, “damn if I do, damn if I don’t” was the “should I or should I not” tightrope I found myself inching my way across as I grappled with the decision or not to weigh in on the Israel-Hamas war.
If I don’t write about it, what could that suggest about me, a dude who prides himself on tackling controversial issues? “Coward,” “spineless” or “complicit” are adjectives I don’t exactly relish being strapped with. “Courageous,” yes, has a much better feel for me.
Wanna know what else has fueled my anxiety? Well, it seemed that every time I tried to put pen to paper on this issue, breaking news of sporadic, bigoted vandalism of mosques and synagogues were reported. Plus, rushed written statements from college administrations across the nation got blistering complaints from student protestors that those statements were too milquetoast, too strong, or just too one sided.
Wrote columnist Frank Bruni, “For the past two and a half weeks, college leaders have canceled or anxiously discussed canceling campus speeches and events that touch on Israel and Palestine. They’ve agonized over the wording of official school statements about the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel and, in some cases, issued second statements to amend, augment or atone for the first ones.
Students, meanwhile, have blasted those administrators for saying too much or too little. They’ve complained about feeling stranded. They’ve demanded more protection.”
But the truth is that I’ve already put my backside out there when I recently wrote about my Jewish friend’s daughter who lives in, but thankfully, survived the October 7th attack on Israel. At the end of that one, and not expecting much, I requested readers to connect me with anyone they knew who lives in Palestine so that I could get an alternative perspective.
So after a few days of no takers, I finally received a response from “Tanya” a Muslim lady. Here’s a snapshot of her message to me:
“Thanks for your new article, Terry. It provides a first-hand perspective that’s important and I think that you will find much to resonate with those on both sides of the conflict.” She then listed an Egyptian individual I could reach out to plus articles that would deepen my knowledge of others, Palestinians in particular. As I sort through it all, the most meaningful was the highly informative article, “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Timeline.”
What I learned from reaching out and getting more balanced information than I expected was the realization that I have so much to learn about the history of that conflict. I learned about my assumptions and gaps in my own knowledge. I also learned how important it is to be inquisitive.
Now the point I’d like to make is simple; sometimes there are unexpected benefits when you take the risk and step out of your comfort zone in search of other experiences and perspectives.
Thus, this takes me to a number of questions I was left with, chief among them, if I write about my Jewish friend “Ed,” as I did recently, does that make me anti-Palestine? Conversely, if I write about the plight of Palestinians, does that make me antisemitic?
Viewed in other contexts, if I write about race, as I sometimes do, does that make me racist against non-Blacks? If I write about women, does that make me anti-men? If I say, “Black lives matter,” do I mean that white lives don’t matter? Of course not. The absurdity of any one of those propositions is laughable.
So agree with me or not, this conflict should not be a tic for tac, or either/or proposition. To me the focus must be on basic humanity and the desire for peace, safety, and survival no matter what side of the issue – or border – on which you currently reside.
But don’t get me wrong, don’t take me to task before hearing me out. This is not to ignore the history of the conflict, the truth of the savage attack by thugs on Israel on October 7th or the thousands of lives snuffed out in both Palestine and Israel since then. Sure, easier said than done, but the challenge is to acknowledge those realities yet humanize those on either side of the conflict as real people rather than depict them as saints or villains. Think about it this way – it’s hard to argue with someone else’s personal experience, with their lives and what they’ve seen through their own eyes if you see them as individuals and not through images of them on the front page of a tabloid in the grocery store checkout line.
So, my parting advice is this: as the Israel-Hamas war continues to unfold into a wider regional conflict, no matter how bleak, challenge yourself to read media sources different from your usual ones. Better still, put aside that PC or turn off that remote control and develop relationships with those you never considered.
In the end, and to Justice Brown’s point, when I write about thorny issues, including the one you’re now reading, in doing so I learn much about the “man in the mirror,” his illusions about the knowledge he thinks he has, and the learning and unlearning he must do.
And guess what? By no stretch of the imagination am I alone.
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Stephan Hawking
Terry Howard is an award-winning trainer, writer, and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.