Former South African President Nelson Mandela 390.
(photo credit: Reuters)
This new book by the late Stephen R. Covey is as interesting and enlightening as
the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the hugely popular work that made
him a household name. It offers many great ideas for conflict resolution, in
one’s personal life, in the workplace, in a school setting and even in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I suppose this is because Breck England, Covey’s
co-author, was here in Israel a few years ago on a special study course. He met
with several people in Israel and Palestine, including myself, who are engaged
in what he and Covey call “Third Alternative” thinking and action.
is the “third alternative”? Generally speaking, most conflicts have two sides.
The first alternative is your perspective.
The second alternative is the
other’s way. By “synergizing,” the authors explain, we can create an additional
alternative, a peaceful resolution. In contrast to compromise, in which both
sides have to give up something, they suggest the process of
“Synergy is not just resolving a conflict.
When we get to
synergy, we transcend the conflict. We go beyond it to something new, something
that excites everyone with fresh promise and transforms the future. Synergy is
better than my way or your way. It’s our way,” they write.
In the chapter
entitled “The 3rd Alternative in the World,” the authors focus on peace-builders
in Israel and Palestine and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
the people discussed in this chapter is Prof. Mohammed Dajani, who teaches
American Studies at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. Dajani talks about the day
that his mother was saved by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint when she was very
sick with asthma. They transported his mother to an Israeli army hospital
because it was the closest facility.
“That afternoon I watched my enemy
trying to save my mother. It was a very important event in my life. For me it
was one of many turning points from ‘us or them’ to ‘us and them.’” Dajani is
now one of the leading exponents of the third alternative in Palestine, an “us
and them” paradigm. He has founded an organization called Wasatia, to educate
Palestinians – young and old – about third alternative thinking. The name of the
organization means moderation or the midpoint between two extremes. According to
the authors, “Wasatia is dedicated to moving beyond extremes toward a higher,
more balanced approach to all of life.”
In addition to describing the
work of Dajani, the authors also talk about the work of the Interreligious
Coordinating Council (ICCI) which I founded and have directed for the past 20
years. The authors discuss the ICCI method of dialogue: “ICCI is creating the
environment for individuals embroiled in this conflict to deliberately seek each
other out and listen to one another... Although the ICCI dialogues are often
very difficult, most participants stay in the course since a deep need for
empathetic listening takes over. These people want to understand one another and
to see how they can learn to live together.”
To balance it out, the
authors also talk about the work of a Palestinian Christian Arab named Margaret
Karram, who was born in Haifa and now works in Jerusalem. Karram is the head of
the Focolare Movement in Israel, which is a worldwide Catholic movement whose
aim is to work toward fostering dialogue at all levels, between different people
and religions. I have come to know the Focolare movement well, having attended
many of its conferences and visited its headquarters in Italy, and I can attest
to the fact that Karram “invests her life in creating dialogue and promoting
This is an inspiring book that offers a new way of thinking,
different from the usual bipolar way in which we rational Western types often
think and act. It is filled with great stories and examples of people who have
used this kind of thinking and action not only to transform their own
consciousness but to effect real change in the world.
For example, the
authors tell the story of Nelson Mandela. After many years in prison, Mandela
had a change of heart that moved him toward reconciliation.
that his warders also were victims of the apartheid system. In his
autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (which was one of the best books that I have
read in recent years), Mandela wrote: “It was during those long and lonely years
that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom
of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the
oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”
own work in peace-building efforts during the past 20 years, I have often heard
it said that Yasser Arafat was not Mandela, and this is one of the reasons that
we have not reached an agreement with the Palestinians. Our leaders, too, have
been stiff-necked, and except for prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, we have not
really had a courageous leader who has been willing to make “painful
compromises” that will lead us to peace. And so, in our conflict too, both the
oppressor and the oppressed have suffered.
The principles elaborated in
this groundbreaking book can help us find a new way. Based on real empathy for
the suffering on both sides of the conflict, maybe we too can find a way to
resolve our conflict, as has been done in South Africa, Northern Ireland and
other places in the world.
The writer, a rabbi and educator who has lived
in Jerusalem for the past 33 years, serves as the founder and director of the
Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel and director of the Jerusalem
Center for Jewish Christian Relations.