His way

THE AUTHORS use Nelson Mandela as an example of a leader who resolved a conflict using synergy.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela 390 (photo credit: Reuters)
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.
What 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.
“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.
One of 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 empathy.”
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.
He discovered 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.”
In my 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.