In an era marked by escalating anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents across the United States — from Congressional halls, college campuses and school classrooms to conversations between friends, neighbors and families — the need for civil discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has never been more pressing. This holiday season, the challenge of navigating a conversation around such a polarizing issue is compounded by current events, which often inflame passions and prejudice. Through empathetic engagement and informed dialogue, we can seek to overcome divisiveness and foster understanding. This article provides a blueprint for such discussions, emphasizing respect and open-mindedness in the face of potentially vehement disagreement.
Encourage Empathy: Start by encouraging participants to express empathy. Understanding the human element of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the suffering people are experiencing throughout the region can create a foundational level of respect.
Stay Informed and Acknowledge Differences: It’s helpful if everyone involved in the conversation is briefed on the history and current developments of the conflict. Still, it’s likely that disagreements on facts may occur. Having access to reliable information from multiple sources can help bridge gaps in knowledge and understanding, which is essential for a nuanced and informed discussion.
Active Listening: Practice active listening. This means truly hearing the other person’s perspective without planning your response while they speak. Then, take a moment to reflect on what was said without judgement or blame, and ask questions that show genuine curiosity. This can open up dialogue and provide deeper insight into another viewpoint.
Seek Common Ground: Seek common ground, even when you disagree. There may be shared values or goals that could form a starting point for agreement. Civil discourse does not mean consensus, but rather the ability to maintain respect while acknowledging different viewpoints.
Know When to Pause and Take a Step Back: If the conversation gets too heated, it’s important to recognize the signs of a potential conflict and consider disengaging tactfully. Suggest a respectful pause by affirming the value of everyone’s perspective, akin to seeking common ground. You might say, “I think we’re getting to a point where our emotions are running high, and it might be best to revisit this conversation later with fresh perspectives.” This approach not only preserves the dignity of all participants, it also leaves the door open for future dialogue.
Decompress Post-Discussion: Allow time for reflection and decompression after the discussion. These conversations can be emotionally and physically draining. Remember to practice self-care and do something that brings you joy.
By applying these techniques, we can hope to bridge gaps in understanding and foster a more empathetic and informed dialogue about this deeply complex and sensitive issue.
Special thanks to Wes Kilgore for concept and contributions to this article and PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs’ Storymaker for providing the guidelines that served as the framework for the article.
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