Article first appeared on tucson.com
By Christina Medvescek Special to the Arizona Daily Star
In the Lebanese film “The Insult,” a Palestinian refugee named Yasser is confronted by a passionate nationalist Lebanese Christian, Tony, over some repair work Yasser is overseeing. Frustrated when Tony smashes the repair job his crew just completed, Yasser lobs a profane insult at him. And so begins a battle fought in courts, kitchens, and on the streets. As the story unfolds, the audience’s allegiances shift from one side to the other, until there’s no “side” left to take. The resolution — such as it is — shines a light on the true source of conflict transformation: being recognized for our humanness, and recognizing the humanness of the other.
Well, we can’t all just hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” As a community dialogue specialist at the nonprofit Center for Community Dialogue & Training, I can’t tell you how many people have recited this to me as an eternal truth. The argument seems to be: “We shouldn’t take a chance on being vulnerable because seeing the humanity in our enemies doesn’t always work.” Well … yeah. That’s true. But by this criteria, how well does violence hold up as a problem-solving strategy? It’s a fact of human biology that violent actions trigger violent responses. History proves that the cycle of revenge never ends. The story of Tony and Yasser is repeated around the world every day, laying down fresh layers of insults that obscure our common humanity.
So what can we do, today, as Tucsonans? It’s true we can’t stop the social, economic and political forces that keep us at each other’s throats. But we can push back — in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, local institutions. It takes courage, but in Tucson we can seek to handle our conflicts nonviolently. In the face of very real and deep grievances, we can see our common humanity as our greatest strength, and so open the way for creative resolutions that preserve dignity and stop the cycle of revenge for good.
The Center (a program of Our Family Services) recently celebrated 40 years of providing cooperative conflict resolution services to Tucson and Southern Arizona. We provide a space for conflict transformation to occur. Be it barking dogs, feuding families, aggrieved co-workers, or “crazy” neighbors, we’ve seen some truly intractable conflicts transformed by two simple actions: empowerment and recognition. Empowerment to speak your truth and be heard. Recognition of the humanity of the other.
We’ve seen people embrace relatives they once despised, and help out neighbors they once screamed at across the driveway. Unfortunately, too often we’ve also seen one party who wants to talk it out, and the other party who refuses to try. Sometimes there are good reasons for this. Other times, people seem more interested in being “right” than in solving the problem. They cite a history of grievances that “prove” resolution is impossible, that the only option is to “win.” And the cycle of revenge rolls on.
On Oct. 20, the Center is partnering with the Loft Cinema to air “The Insult.” Learn how Yasser and Tony ended their conflict. After the film, stick around to join a facilitated dialogue circle addressing violence in our own community. Sitting face-to-face, speaking and listening, who knows what we can create together? I promise we won’t make you sing “Kumbaya.” But you might just feel like it.