Exposure PhaseIsrael/PalestineLearning LabParticipant ReflectionsUncategorized

Nick Foran is a leader, thinker and adventurer who is daily seeking to participate in the justice of God.  He recently returned from an extended time working in the Townships of post-Aparteid South Africa and now is engaging – with our current Learning Community – in the tension of dual narrative in Israel/Palestine.  

Father, forgive me for Hebron – Social networks and their role in peace in the middle east.

Many narratives are present in the middle east. The two predominant ones are a Palestinian and Israeli narrative. We saw both today with accounts from the each group. A very nice Jewish lady told us of her Grandmother’s assault by extremist Arabs in 1929 and her Father’s murder by a vicious Arab as well. In between these two events was the holocaust which killed 6 million Jewish people. We then met several Arab men that described the injustices put on them by Israeli soldiers. They spoke of humiliating check-points, burdensome housing situations, economic constraints, and one horrifying mass murder in a mosque by an Israeli doctor. We walked in these all to common middle east narratives by visiting a Israeli settlement, a synagogue, a marketplace, and a mosque. We saw some really beautiful relations and some really harmful ones. In the midst of this, I couldn’t help but notice the connectedness of these opposing communities and the cycles of harm each went through.

Anger and violence seem to be  contagious. There is an old story of a small Italian village that underwent a spree of murders where a member of the victims family would always carry on another act of murder but to a completely new victim outside the involved parties. This means the first man’s action created a ripple of violent actions in the community and those around it. The book Connected, How Social Networks Affect Everything We Do points to extensive research about the role social networks have in our lives and its influence on our thoughts and actions. A social network is all around us. It is not just the number of facebook friends you have but a complex set of relationships that you and the people around you choose to participate. The research determined that an individual’s actions (happiness, weight gain, etc) have a quantifiable effect at least 3 degrees along a social network. That means your friends and their friends, and your friend’s friends are influenced by your thoughts, feelings, and actions. When actions are profound enough or at the right node of the social network they can create social epidemics that spread through communities across the land.

You may be asking why I asked for forgiveness for Hebron. The unsettling truth is I have acted in ways that create harmful ripples for an unknown distance. I have harmed others and been impacted by other’s harmful actions to create cycles of negative behavior. I have made poor judgements or spoken a little to freely about the middle east in a way that propagates through my social networks. For this I am deeply sorry and left wondering how I can be a part of stopping this vicious cycle of harm.

To further complicate matters, I observed most of these harmful actions were committed by people who were trying to do the “right” thing. Religion informs much of what we understand to be right and wrong. Some morals may be universal among religions and others may vary considerably. Epidemics of harm seemed to start when religion was held so tightly that it failed to see the humanity of another. The successful peacemakers from all over the middle east seemed to hold loosely to the “right” for the greater purpose of preserving another’s humanity.

The good news in all of this is that happiness and healthy living are contagious too. Africa is known for having laughing epidemics and it is proven that if you are happy than your friends are 15% more likely to be happy. Many of us know a person who just by being around them we feel happy and can be happier around others. Our words and actions clearly permeate through our social networks in wholesome and harmful ways.

I am left asking questions…

How do I stop socially contagious anger and violence in the places I live?

In what ways could the institutions in which I participate create social epidemics of happiness, joy, and peace through our communities?

When I speak in my social networks to what type of epidemic am I contributing?

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