Years ago the Israeli Consul General was in town and my friend Nat and I were talking to him about employing the 15-second sound bite. I remember quite clearly him taking us to task for even suggesting this was a valid way to dispense information. His argument was well founded and certainly true.
Ideas cannot be presented in 15 seconds. Discussion cannot be thorough in 15 seconds. Solutions cannot be well thought out and formulated in 15 seconds. And listening to each side does not happen in 15 seconds.
As a society we have fallen to the 15-second sound bite for our information and from that we make our decisions. Unfortunately those decisions are not always based on a complete analysis or much of anything. How can anything worth discussing on any real level be formulated in 15 seconds, or worse, in a tweet? And yet, many of us get our information and then form opinions from those sound bites or 140 characters or less. We want instant answers to complex issues. We take the first thing that comes across the internet and social media takes over. We text, we tweet, we try to add a human spin with emojis. But in the end, we are less informed and more prone to making emotionally charged decisions that may or may not be valid.
The political climate today and the reliance on tweets and sounds bites is bringing out the worst of who we are as a people. We slander our fellow Americans. We dehumanize whole segments of our population. We do not engage in meaningful dialogue. We are quick to anger, slow to forgive and rarely, if ever, admit we are wrong.
It takes courage and strength of character to be willing to listen to people and to try to resolve conflict. It takes integrity to see other people as our equals. No person can ever successfully lead people if they have no faith, no respect and no understanding of the people. If there is one thing I think we learn as we get older, it’s that life is seldom black and white. It’s shades of gray with a bit of color thrown in every once in a while to liven things up. Rarely are people completely bad or even completely good. People are complex creatures formed by our own histories, circumstances and day-to-day experiences.
Amidst all of this rhetoric are the discussions surrounding Israel and Palestine. The two extremes from saving Israel to wiping out Israel. Many of those “discussions” involve entrenched participants on both sides firmly holding to the opinion that they are completely in the right and the other side is completely in the wrong. Dire consequences to supporting either side are thrown out. People are demonized. Sides are taken. Lines in the sand are drawn. Pictures and incidents are sent over social media that may or may not have any basis in fact. Corrections made later don’t even begin to address the damage that has already happened and the opinions that have already formed. If we let the 15-second sound bite rule, fear reigns. Hatred is entrenched. No one wins.
If we spend some time and listen and look at all of the individuals on both sides who simply want peace, we see a different story. Jewish and Muslim mothers who have lost children and do not want other mothers to know their grief. Muslim and Jewish kids meeting each other for the first time at a soccer camp and becoming friends. Artists of all faiths who share their work. Single individuals and large groups all working toward peace. Those setting aside the language and rhetoric of division and learning the language of inclusion. Despite their different ways of getting to peace, their own inner conflicts and their historically held views, they are all taking the time and making the effort to learn to listen.
Individual Israeli’s and Palestinian’s want peace and to get it they know they must learn to listen to each other. Peace, whether it is in our own homes, community or country, starts with each of us. It will not be achieved through tweets or 15 second sound bites, but rather through concentrated and sincere efforts on all of our parts to listen and learn from each other. It can be done and the results will be well worth the effort it takes.
To all of our Muslim friends: we wish you a peaceful Ramadan.
• Chava Lee is the president of Congregation Sukkat Shalom.