The Brutal Facts Of The World As It Is

Last month, I hosted a webinar on the Israel-Hamas conflict with Isaac Saul, editor-in-chief of Tangle. Saul is a political reporter who goes to great lengths to understand how and why people feel the way they feel before worrying about whether he agrees with them. (I’ve written about Saul, and how much I admire his approach, previously.)

The webinar was reasonably straightforward: I invited Saul to help us understand how we got here: the pro-Israel story and the pro-Palestine story. I asked him to help us understand the current state of affairs. I asked him to share some of the potential paths forward. We took questions from the audience.

I took pains, at the outset, to frame the conversation: an extremely contentious topic, about which our listeners no doubt already held strong views. I invited people to notice their visceral reactions when they heard views from the “other side,” to notice how their bodies rebelled from even hearing a different perspective. I asked people to attempt nonetheless to listen -- not to agree, but to understand.



As I anticipated, as the webinar progressed, we started to see indignation in the comments. But what was fascinating to me was the nature of the indignation: We weren’t sufficiently horrified at Hamas and we weren’t sufficiently horrified at the IDF.

We were being accused simultaneously of matter and anti-matter.

I get it. I really do. When you know people have done horrific things, are doing horrific things, anything less than outrage seems like a betrayal. I’m familiar with Edmund Burke’s famous quote, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is that good men do nothing.”

I’m also familiar with the Stockdale Paradox.

In 1965, Admiral Jim Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam. He was taken captive and held prisoner in the infamous Hanoi Hilton for seven and a half years. In the book “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins shares a conversation they had. Collins asked Stockdale who didn’t make it out of the prisoner-of-war camp. Stockdale answer was immediate: “The optimists.”

He went on: “[T]hey were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

“…This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end -- which you can never afford to lose -- with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

The discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.

Practicing that discipline requires listening to the stories of our antagonists -- and really hearing them.

“But that’s ridiculous! I don’t want to hear their story! I don’t need to hear it! They have murdered us, are murdering us!”

Yes. Those are the brutal facts of our current reality.

“But they shouldn’t!”

Correct. But they are. Want to bring it to an end? We have to deal with the facts as they are.

“But we’ll never get peace as long as they are so horrible!”

Dealing with the brutal facts of our current reality means understanding what conditions need to be in place to achieve peace, which means understanding where people are coming from, even people with whom you fundamentally disagree.

If we who are sitting in safety cannot listen to each other, how can we possibly hope for leaders in the thick of things to shift their own perspectives?

If we want justice, if we want peace, if we want to change the world, we must become skilled at the art of listening to understand. Of dealing with the world as it is, not as we wish it were.

Only by dealing with the world as it is can we have a hope of changing it.

2 comments about "The Brutal Facts Of The World As It Is".
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  1. Kenneth Fadner from MediaPost, January 16, 2024 at 8:52 a.m.

    Agreed, Kaila

  2. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, January 21, 2024 at 2:19 a.m.

    Thanks, Kenneth!

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