"The difficulties of peace are better than the agony of war." Menachem Begin
This morning, the day after our country's 2022 midterm elections, despite all the contention, I gained hope and new commitment to persevere. I was reading Geoff Cohen’s book, Belonging. Cohen shares this story.
It’s 1978. President Jimmy Carter had arranged a summit in which he brought the prime minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, and the president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, to Camp David.
Carter deeply desired a peace deal between the two countries, but the odds seemed remote. Egypt wanted Israel to return land and political prisoners. Israel was opposed to the idea.
Israel wanted Egypt to promise a permanent truce. Egypt seemed unwilling. Negotiations were going badly.
Prime Minister Begin packed up. However, Carter caught him at the elevator.
Carter had a folder containing nine photographs. The photos captured the three of them – Carter, Begin, Sadat together at the summit.
Carter handed the photos to Begin. He explained that they were mementos for his nine grandchildren. In fact, Carter had inscribed the name of one of Begin’s grandchild on the back of each picture.
Begin looked at the photos …saying nothing for a while. Then Carter noticed that his eyes had tears. Begin read aloud the names of each of his grandchildren and said, “There must be a way. There is a way. For our children, for the next generation.”
Begin returned to negotiations. By the end of the week, Begin and Sadat shook hands and solidified the Camp David Accords.
Taking perseverence home. Recently, a friend decided to go to our community dinner. He purposely went there with the intent of sitting with strangers. Later he told me that the interaction was challenging.
As it turned out, my friend did know one of the people. Not in reality, but from Facebook posts. The posts made it clear to him that this person, probably this whole table of people, were not people of his ideological tribe.
My friend congratulated himself on being able to hang in the conversation, eventually he was able to find a friend they had in common. But it was hard.
After my friend finished telling me about this difficult conversation, he said, “But I will do it again. I want to challenge myself even if it is uncomfortable.”
My friend’s values are around believing in people, creating community, learning to live together, and challenging himself to be the change he wants to see. He’s playing the long game. Despite the awkwardness, even frustration, he like Begin, is willing to go back to the table. Stick with it.
My friend at first seemed sad to report that his encounter was “not magical.” I, however, loved his story because many of our initial interactions with strangers can be hard. We need to know that. We also need to know why we are willing to persevere.
Maybe it’s about our grandchildren. Maybe it’s a personal challenge to stretch ourselves in a meaningful way. Maybe it's about our desire to do our part.
My husband and I had a challenge several days ago. We are still processing our learning. We were caught off guard in a meeting where a few people adamantly challenged us with words that felt like “fighting words.”
I noticed how very tempting it was for me to get into it with them even though I know that approach goes nowhere, nor does it fit with my values.
In my head I was crafting cutting comebacks. Luckily I noticed and worked with myself mentally…saying, “If I had experienced the same life, been exposed to the same ideas - backed up by my friends, family, and mentors, I would most likely be spouting similar words.”
That insight helped me watch myself, keep myself from retaliating. And I learned a lot about myself. I learned that “authoritarian type of language” easily hijacks me. Phrases like “let me tell you something,” “the reality is,” “you just don’t get it,” put the primitive part of my brain into threat, fight mode.
I learned that if I want to connect with others, one thing to avoid is authoritarian language and…I really, really want to use that superior talk. Preceded by something like “You idiot….”
I imagine that others have experienced the same desire to put people in their place. No matter that it doesn’t win arguments; it doesn’t win friends.
More useful approaches are to use words like, “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe.” Better yet we can authentically share our personal stories and ask questions with sincere curiosity and humility. Never speaking from a one-up position.
Some great research was done in Florida. People's opinions were largely and lastingly changed using those methods – asking about others’ views, wondering aloud about the experiences that got them to their view.
Here are a few great questions that Cohen offers for deeper connections:
What are your hopes and concerns for your family, community, and country?
What could your best friend say about who you are?
What sense of purpose, mission, or duty guides you in your life?
Even though we are not people in positions like Carter, Begin, and Sadat, we can make a difference in our daily lives. We can foster civility, understanding, and belonging. And yes, it’s can be a challenge sometimes.
It matters enough to me to keep at it. Experimenting. Reading. Practicing. Learning. Going back to the table. Sticking with it. Like Begin, I'm doing it for my grandchildren.
From a reader. Let me switch gears here a bit and offer a story (keep sending them! I will work them in so we all get to know each other). This reader's story gives personal insights to the challenges around connecting with strangers, how tribes develop, and how we foster belonging. And most of all, may provoke us to figure out how to stick with the challenges of connecting and creating community.
I remember when I entered junior high school, at lunch I defaulted to the people I knew from elementary school. After a few days, I was invited to the "cool guys" table. Although it gave me a boost in confidence, to this day I always feel guilty about abandoning my old acquaintances.
High school wasn't so bad because the same groups moved together although we broke out into subgroups with upper classmates. I lost some friends that way, but I gained others. It all came down to schmoozing with people with the same interests.
In college, I experimented with eating lunch with new people. After being totally ignored, I found a new group to eat with and shared our common interest for the rest of my college career.
Now, with our move to a new community (with a shared dining area), we are faced with the same experiences - trying to determine what other residents are thinking and if we will be accepted. We have two drop-in tables for six at dinner.
We have observed that the same people sit at the same table each evening. It's uncomfortable to try to join their groups and find out what they are thinking about others or if we will put them out of their comfort zone. We will keep trying and hopefully we will discover that the same junior high school anxiety exists at a senior level.
How might we keep trying to connect, sticking with it, even though it’s challenging...keep journeying together, even setting the stage for our grandchildren to live the Good Life?