Who are They, Anyway? Finally meeting the strangers in our own land
by Libby and Len Traubman
(Original article: Turning Point: Journal of the Conscious Elders Network – Winter 2016)
Inside our California home we feel deeply, and coast-to-coast across America, we read thousands of post-election words about fears and potential dangers.
Yet, listening carefully across the black-dark chasms of human separation, we citizens see light on some unifying agreement: Many old institutions favor a few and exclude many, sometimes most, of us.
Illuminated also is an American magnificence—our violence-free elections that give voices and ears to everyone who participates; no matter how previously invisible, unknown, left out, unheard, often hopeless and desperate.
In our related personal experiences of peacebuilding in the Middle East and in Nigeria, the people ask about Islamic State and Boko Haram: “Who are they, anyway?” And so it is today, in divided America and around Earth; walled-off individuals largely fearful and ignorant of unknown others, strangers to one another.
However different, unreasonable or even brutal we seem to each other, everyone has a story, a reason. And, “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” Maya Angelou reminds us.
Everywhere, every day, our need and imperative is to engage when it’s hardest, listen better, remember everyone. Dignify each other to close our distances and know the other human being. “There is no them if you know them,” says Dick Simon, businessman and global traveler.
Mysteriously, yet dependably, this is the magic of chasm-crossing toward family and community.
So, what can be done to help our nation cross the chasm? Each one of us, as we are inwardly moved, can take some sort of action to help us bridge the unnecessary gaps of separation.
As for the two of us—in our mid-70s and “re-fired, not retired”—we are initiating a series of cross-cultural community gatherings, CROSSING LINES IN SAN MATEO: Sharing Stories, Creating Community.
Specifically, our small, local Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue group is inviting the larger community to circle up for respectful communication, beginning with a new quality of listening to one another, to everyone. We’re confident that this local public action to know the “other” will give voices to the unheard and dignify everyone, especially the listeners. Cooperating with the local Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, this hands-on workshop will be an early step toward a county-wide Strengthening Communities Summit, to be held this summer.
Trusting our lifelong experience working with adversaries, based on the premise that “an enemy is one whose story we have not heard,” we anticipate a phoenix of unprecedented common unity rising from ever-brightening flames of human desire for reunion, and finally living as one— neighbors forever, here and around Earth.
Libby and Len Traubman helped launch the Beyond War Movement of the 1980s. They are co-founders of the 24-year-old Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue, preparing for its 290th meeting on the San Francisco Peninsula. Married 49 years, they reside in San Mateo, California and are parents to a daughter and son, and enjoy being supportive grandparents.