Arguably, our biggest power is the ability to choose how we interpret things.
Given the recently unfolding events in the Israel-Palestine conflict, jumping to quick conclusions and rushing to judgement is as common as it is harmful. Stories of people from different perspectives are rarely consistent. It’s good to realise that we will never grasp the full picture and we will always be inaccurate in our assessment. However, the most important thing to realise is that hatred isn’t the solution, but instead it is the cause of perpetual violence.
There is no excuse for the terrible acts of violence of Hamas terrorists, nor for the conditions under which Israel occupies territories. Territories the used to belong to the Palestinian people.
Under normal circumstances, diversity of perspectives is something to celebrate. Now, different versions of history appear to compete for attention. With the immense pain on both sides of the conflict, the discussion isn’t centered around what future we want, or how to co-exist. It’s focussed around pain and injustice. But where to go from here?
It’s always good to keep an open mind and not just parrot the narrative of the bubble we’re in, or that of the mainstream media. It’s always good to wonder what causes a human being to commit an atrocity. While reading Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, I realized psychoanalysis is but one method to explore the mind for improving our circumstances. It’s centered around addressing problems. However, it can be complemented or entirely replaced by another approach: logotherapy. When someone feels he/she has a purpose that makes life meaningful, most problems in life don’t feel like problems. This is the power of interpretation and a choice to focus on certain things.
The amount of good that people can do is immeasurable.
The converse is perhaps also true. The amount of pain that can be inflicted by people whose lives lack meaning, is perhaps equally immeasurable.
I was worried about the predicament of the Palestinians before the attacks, but now even more so. It’s nothing short of a humanitarian crisis that lasted for generations and with no end in sight.
It’s crucial to note that what follows isn’t an attempt to excuse any wrongdoings, but rather an exploration into understanding some underlying factors. A densely populated area with a lack of basic resources, with young people who have little left to lose is such a dangerous recipe. If it becomes hard to even hope that the future in this life will become better for you and the people around you, it may be that resorting to the most extreme acts of violence seems like a way out of the misery. Individuals might seek solace in imagined realities, like an afterlife. Who can maintain a positive attitude while their people are being oppressed for such a long time? If your cry for help isn’t heard, I know violence still isn’t the answer, but who knows what is? If the weak can be radicalised more easily, weakening the entire group further could be a strategy. Cutting off the country for essential supplies further weakens the masses. Those with mental health issues are being actively recruited, and these issues can become increasingly prevalent. Their hate is actively being fuelled with a narrative. And, sadly, there is plenty of material for such a narrative.
We don’t need to limit ourselves to one interpretation or perspective. Perspectives aren’t mutually exclusive. The ability to suspend disbelief is what makes any breakthrough possible. The ability to suspend judgement enables people to really come together, even if it isn’t obvious that this would even happen.
Apart from interpreting through the lens that Frankl shared with us, I wanted to share an interpretation of Gabor Maté, whose life was also marked by the Holocaust. Gabor Maté is a renowned physician, author, and speaker, known for his expertise in addiction, stress, childhood development, and a host of other topics related to mental health and wellness.
For this, you can watch the following video on Youtube, in which Gabor Maté discusses his journey from a Holocaust survivor to a Zionist. He talks about recognizing the oppression Palestinians face due to the Israeli occupation. He reflects on the distorted narratives around Palestinian resistance compared to global protests, emphasizes the ongoing traumatic impact on Palestinians, and criticizes the imbalance of power. He urges awareness of the comprehensive information available on Israeli transgressions, stressing the clear narrative of oppression and ethnic cleansing that underpins the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The most simple solution would be to allow Israel together with the global community help aid the Palestinians and improve their conditions (Elon Musk appear to agree with me here). As it is right now, many countries are currently blocked, efforts to rebuild aren’t expected to last long, so it’s not particularly attractive to invest resources into that.
Even if we don’t know for sure if our interpretation is correct, it’s important to realise that we can all be a force for good, or for bad. And of course there’s a lot in between. Even if we’re far away from this conflict, we still have a responsibility. These are some suggestions:
- Taking the time to discover and sit with what’s deeply meaningful to you. This is what’s worth focusing your energy around.
- This will in turn make you realize, for instance, that it’s not possessions or status or many other things that may lead you further away from who you really are.
- If you’ve heard of the butterfly effect, you know that small things can have a big impact. Imagine how many lives you can impact positively by not rushing things, really seeing and acknowledging people (with all their beautiful imperfections), and acting out of kindness.
- Understanding that improving things it all starts with you. Not with actions, but with how you choose to interpret. If you change the way you see the world, you can change the world you see. Seeing goes beyond thinking.
- There’s a lot of knowledge out there. Heck, there’s a lot of wisdom out there. Appreciate this, but don’t forget that wisdom is already there on the inside all along. How else would you recognize wisdom in others? What voices inside of you do you listen to most of the time? Is your inner monologue your greatest asset or is it holding you back?
- Get rid of unhealthy habits. You can even use them to habit stack beneficial habits onto the habits that you already have and hollow out the unhealthy parts. You can fill up the holes with something good 🙂
- Be grateful, even of things you take for granted. If you’re reading this, chances are that you have a LOT to be grateful for. Take the time, every day, to practice gratitude. List a few things and really feel it. It could be something related tot that day, or something that you could’ve listed on any day. It’s a shame to focus your life around problems and expelling misery. Joy and misery are inevitable parts of life but we don’t need to give misery the center stage.
- Go outside (to go inside). We’re not evolved for the artificial world of walls and ceilings and climate control keeping us in homeostasis, we’re evolved for the natural world. Being outdoors does wonders for me. What’s good for the body also helps lift the spirits. Allostasis, such as experiencing the cold or fatigue allows me to be more connected to myself because of it.
- If you find the courage to clean up mentally and work on trauma, it will allow you to enjoy life and contribute more.
- Attitude is everything! To live, is to make your answer to life be Love, expressed in your own unique way.
- Spending a bit more energy to examine your own life. Understand that you are not your ego, but you have an ego. See the ego as a filter that can help with self-preservation, survival and getting things done. However, it doesn’t enable you to thrive, really connect. That requires the courage to be vulnerable.
- If you’re honest about what’s holding you back, it’s usually not someone else, it’s yourself! Avoidance of discomfort or pain often is the bigger problem than the pain itself. I’m saying nothing new, the stoics wrote about this millennia ago, but it’s true. This means having the difficult conversations, doing something that’s completely novel, going out into the world. Doing anything meaningful will require discomfort. Embrace discomfort.
- Look for silver linings. I’ve found it helpful to see hardship as something that’s there to make us grow.
- Go through life like an anthropologist, be curious about what’s beautiful and special about the people around you. With this attention you’ll see more of that, and people who notice that you see something will show more of that. We can amplify greatness in others (from: The art of possibility. A book that changed my life).
- Stop fighting against things. If you have to fight, fight for improving the human condition. Fighting for something can be done compassionately. Such as improving your own condition to start with, and then the conditions of others.
- Never look away if there’s grave injustice (but it’s okay to pick your battles not to become overly diluted). Have the courage to call it out if something feels wrong. At the same time, focus on what you can do, don’t just become a voice of anger. Buckminster Fuller said it beautifully: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
- “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge“
– Albert Einstein
The paradigm of relativity, courtesy of Einstein, challenges the Western world’s fixation on objective truths, portraying it as inadequate as a being endowed with just cognition, void of heart. Einstein, known for being a strong rational thinker, has said something fewer people know, but that has a lot of “truth” to it:
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.Albert Einstein (source)
Different paradigms of thinking were known for thousands of years (e.g. Hinduism), but we still have objective thinking on a pedestal.
Even “objective” fields of expertise like math have axioms. With different axiom, a completely different kind of math is revealed. My point is, axioms are our interpretations. Someone made them up a long time ago, and they determine what we can see. Even what we call hard sciences is built up from people’s choices and imagination. However, we can change our interpretation and see things in a new light.
The only thing we know for sure is that we have an experience. It appears to tell us something, but we don’t get a manual of how to approach it. Whatever you choose is up to you. Tune into your own voice and amplify it. Choose what is congruent with your feelings rather than fleeting emotions. It all start with YOU, HERE, NOW. Give it everything you’ve got and enjoy yourself in the process!