It was the most mundane thing that got my mind racing the other day: A question in my psychology textbook.
How much alike are we?
Very, I thought to myself.
Because we are all human. And I think realizing that, understanding that we are much more alike than we are different, will allow us to not only build peace, but sustain it. But how do we do that in a world where our differences both define and divide us? In a world where it is differences that have caused the Syrian War to rage on for seven years, where it is differences that allow the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to have no end in sight, where it is differences that cause us to put our heads down when we see someone unlike us on the streets.
Since the beginning of time, we have isolated ourselves from those we believe are different, out of fear, out of jealousy, out of hate. For so long, we were able to look conflict, atrocity, genocide, disease, and say it's not my problem if it's happening to someone different.
But we don’t live in that world anymore. We weren’t raised in that world. Our generation only knows a world that is connected in a way those before us could never imagine - a world where their problem has become our problem.
The problem of a child in Yemen dying from a disease with a simple cure is our problem.
The problem of a Rohingya trapped inside a burning home set on fire by those attempting genocide is our problem.
The problem of a seventeen-month-old baby starving to death in Venezuela is our problem.
But many people will still say no, it’s not. How do we begin to see each other as we see ourselves?
For me, it began when I visited Mount Bental last summer- which overlooks the border between Syria and Israel. I watched bombs in the distance, and it occurred to me- there is no reason other than luck that it is not me down there. That it is not me fleeing for my life, from all that I have ever known, from my family, from my home, from the only identity I ever knew. That it is not me who has seemed to have nine lives while I watch loved ones die at the hands of those who are of the same blood as myself. That it is not me who has had to walk miles in the heat with nothing other than the knowledge that to stay means to choose death. That it is not me who has had to spend months in an overcrowded refugee camp only to be denied asylum when I thought for a second, luck could be on my side.
Guilt. That's what I felt standing there. Guilt because luck, not race, not religion, not wealth, was the reason I could walk away and they could not. And in that moment, I knew we were all the same.
But I’m in high school, and by the time I returned home I hadn’t figured out how I could help change what I saw - how I could help mitigate the hate that exists between so many peoples across the globe. Three months later at a Model United Nations conference, while representing Israel in a committee on Islamophobia, I realized that perhaps the answer is in what I’ve always done - talk. This committee may have been one of the few times Iran and Israel have worked together, but the real resolution was created when we weren’t writing clauses at all. While nations are assigned at random, we both had a very strong connection to the nation we were representing. We started talking not as delegates, but as ourselves. Through our conversation, we came to see that antisemitism and Islamophobia are one in the same – both are the result of a senseless hate that comes when we don’t even know who our target is – not as a color, a religion, or a race, but as a person.
What our world is missing is conversations like this. Change doesn’t start from the top, it starts with us. Having a conversation is one of the simplest things we can do - but yet so often, we choose not to. We choose another way- we choose war, we choose treaties, we choose politics. We choose ways that don’t allow us to see that our enemy is often no different than ourselves. When we choose conversation, we get to see who is on the other side- and when we find the common empathy that is always there, we get to cross over. And then foe becomes a friend.
Peace starts with people, not policies. What if instead of picking up the gun that we think will bring peace, we use words as our weapons. When you fire a bullet, you don't solve the problem- you perpetuate the one that exists. We need to put ourselves in uncomfortable conversations. We need to be able to ask the questions we are afraid to ask each other and have the conversations we have spent centuries avoiding. We need to be able to listen in a way we have refused to, to do more than hear what the other side has to say, but to think about it. Because only when we strip away our differences– when we take off the layers of distinctions society has taught us to use as shields– we can strip down to our humanity, our oneness.
In our nakedness, there is nothing left to be afraid of. Flesh, bone, and blood- we are all the same. It takes strength to be vulnerable, and sometimes it takes being vulnerable to create change. But we are the youth now, and we can make today’s discomfort tomorrow's normality. There is comfort in the uncomfortable, for we know that when we go where nobody has before we are moving forward.