We are living in scary times. The recent and ongoing atrocities, devastation, and war in Israel and Gaza are having an effect on many people and communities, including trickling down to our children, teens, and young adults. The reverberations range from sympathetic recipients of information through news and social media, participants in activism based on values and principles, members of affected religious and ethnic groups in the US and in our local school, work and neighborhood communities, those experiencing fear of or direct anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic rhetoric or actions, to people who know others more personally impacted by loss and trauma, and most painful, those who have lost or are worrying about close loved ones still in harm’s way. Even for those with peripheral exposure to the tragic stories, it is difficult not to have feelings about what is happening in the Middle East and as a result, here at home.
In brainstorming for this newsletter, the original idea was to write on modeling civil discourse for teens. In thinking more deeply, the wounds seem too open and emotions too raw to feel ready to skillfully engage in healthy and productive disagreement or sharing of information or perspectives. As a result, for me at least, I have felt frozen; stuck in processing how to engage with others on things so sensitive, particularly with those who may have different allegiances or viewpoints than mine. While we are in the midst of such traumatic events, it seems more apt to share strategies on how we can sit in our emotions and differences while finding common value in the humanity of others. No matter our thoughts, beliefs or emotions, if we are to keep relationships and broader connections intact, we must use skills that honor the basic value of human life, dignity, and freedom to be who we are without fear of harm. This is a crucial opportunity to teach teens and young adults, who feel passionately and are learning to engage in social justice, to do so while valuing relationships.
Respect. Feeling closely aligned with a particular religious, ethnic, or other identified group means when we see others in our group under threat or harmed, we instinctively feel the urge to protect and defend them, and consequently, ourselves. It makes sense that we want to take action to support, protect, and defend any cause of this threat. We as humans, in no matter what body and being we reside, are wired to survive. Those of us not in the direct line of literal fire, have no need to harm others, physically, or with threatening language. To respect is to value. The most basic value is for human life and existence.
Authenticity. When the experience of fear is accompanied by identifying with a particular group, authentic expression can be greatly hindered. This may mean hiding personal attributes, symbolic accessories, avoiding certain others, or refraining from open expression of thoughts and feelings. When we do not feel able to engage with others or present ourselves in ways that feel consistent with our internal experience (identity, emotions, beliefs, thoughts), it can feel destabilizing and create a sense of insecurity. There have been many recent stories of people feeling the need to protect themselves through one or more of these forms of hiding. Expressing ourselves and allowing others to express themselves in all forms of identity, will allow for all to be the best of themselves and more likely to feel safety in relationships, no matter how close or peripheral.
Kindness. It is a hard ask to offer kindness and compassion to those we may feel are supporting something we experience as a threat to our sense of safety and/or freedom. Even if not ready to express openly, try to think of what others may be experiencing and feeling and find that nugget of understanding for their humanity and emotions. This does not require agreement or direct expression. Even cultivating compassion internally can help neutralize what may initially present as vitriolic urges.
Predictability. A sense of safety is associated with an experience of certainty and predictability. Though there will always be uncertainty in what to expect of others (as we can only control ourselves), let us all be deliberate and thoughtful in our actions and words so they are productive rather than impulsive, erratic, or stemming from “emotion mind”.
Acceptance. We may not be in a place as of yet for productive exchanges of ideas and possible solutions. The war and violence happening in Israel and Gaza are painfully happening in real time and affecting so many of us in various ways and on a continuum up to unimaginable loss and pain. Can we accept each other’s right to feel and express safely and freely and without threatening other’s rights to the same? Let us not accept any rhetoric explicitly or implicitly calling for the destruction of others.
The atmosphere in our local and broader communities has felt very heavy in the context and reverberations from larger global tragedies. Thank you for allowing my attempt at expressing a delicate message to both honor the feelings and needs of others while trying to preserve cohesion in our personal and communal relationships. It feels aligned with my life’s work and in our messaging and model in “What Works With Teens” to promote healthy and skillful relationships, especially in the midst of such difficult and complex concerns.
Wishing very much for peace.
Let us also take a moment to feel the gratitude and extend thanks to those Veterans who have worked so hard to protect our freedoms. A special thanks to my Dad, who served as an Army doctor in Vietnam and came home to meet his daughter when she was 10 months old. Happy Veteran’s Day!!
~Julie Baron, LCSW-C