How to Hear Different Perspectives
In 2016 I stood on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, straddling one of the greatest conflicts in recent world history.
Soldiers stood guard in solid cement structures nearby. Looking through the slits in the concrete, I could just make out the young soldier’s eyes.
“Over there,” our tour guide pointed, “is where Hamas dug a tunnel big enough for a truck to drive through.” Palestinians from Gaza had tunneled through 1.8 miles of no man’s land, the land separating Israel and Gaza, to hide munitions from Israeli troops.
Growing up in the American Southwest, I learned through my school and the news, that Gaza was full of terrorists. I learned that Palestinians were all people who sought the destruction of Israel and the United States.
Now, here I stood at the edge of “no man’s land” for the first time. Instead of confirming what I’d been taught most of my life, I heard a different narrative, a different story. And the narrator? An Israeli grandma.
Her neighborhood sat on the border where bomb shelters littered the quiet streets.
Most strikingly, on a street corner, near a playground, was a modest concrete building.
“What’s that?” someone in our group asked her.
“Oh, that’s a bus stop for the school bus. The concrete is a bomb shelter for the kids. Alarms sound when there are incoming rockets and everyone has 15 seconds to seek shelter.”
I sat back in my seat. Shocked. That structure could only hold a couple children.
Where would the rest of the children hide?
Now I was convinced… My upbringing, my education, and now what our guide just told us: Hamas, Gaza, Palestinians… they must be terrorists… inhumane.
Or so I thought…
Our tour guide invited us into her home. Dinner was prepared and we ate mounds of food. We were grateful and anxious for more stories.
“Let’s call my friend. She’s a young woman who lives in Gaza,” said our host.
What? Bomb shelters, stories of rockets, no man’s land, and now she is calling a friend from over there? How can this be?
We sat nervously as the phone rang, and a young woman answered. She told us her story, her desire to live, to dream, to survive, she told us about her education and her family.
Her dreams were the same as mine. She was just like me. She’s not a terrorist. She’s not evil or inhumane. Didn’t she deserve to live and dream? To not just survive, but to thrive?
As I listened that evening, I heard stories of people sneaking Palestinians out of Gaza and into Israeli hospitals for the care they couldn’t get it in Gaza. I also heard stories of Israeli doctors committed to the care, the health, and the survival of their enemy.
My understanding and my comfort zone were shattered. The neat walls I had built around my life based on my limited perspective began to fall. I didn’t have a box to put all these stories in.
The night went on… stories of Israelis and Palestinians who became friends and who loved each other. Stories of Muslims and Christians, living side by side, working together, relying on each other. These people were committed to a world where dignity and love ruled, not division and hate.
My entire worldview was shaken to the core, and I was so glad I had chosen to make this trip.
This trip was facilitated by an organization called Amplify Peace. Amplify Peace is a movement of peacemakers around the world. The particular trip I took was an immersion trip designed to create life-changing encounters with different people’s stories which I could never have heard otherwise.
And then I came home.
I sat at the Thanksgiving table, surrounded by family and friends.
People asked about my recent trip, but their interest fell flat. I found out quickly that they didn’t actually want to know the different perspective I had gained in Israel/Palestine.
Could I blame them? What I had seen challenged much of what I believed to be true. Were they ready for this?
I felt completely isolated in my journey to process these new perspectives.
I cannot un-see what I have seen. I cannot un-hear the stories I heard. I cannot argue with someone’s lived truth and say it was wrong, just because it was contrary to my upbringing.
I turned to Amplify Peace, to learn the principles of peacemaking. I buried my head in books, listened to webinars and podcasts, anything to discover how to listen to stories I had never heard before. I began to learn how to be a peacemaker in the midst of conflict and live differently because of it.
How to Hear Another Perspective
It’s 2020. The holiday season is here. For many of us, the hot topics of our day are bound to arise during our holiday meals: the pandemic, politics, the lack of unity in our communities, tensions around race, opinions on protesting and more.
Chances are you’ll be sitting at tables this season with people who have different opinions than you. How will you navigate these conversations? Here are seven tips I learned from Amplify Peace known as the “Principles of Peacemaking:”
1. Seek to understand rather than be understood.
Listening to understand honors the teller. Sometimes it’s hard, and we must listen longer than feels comfortable.
2. Do not sit in judgement.
Understand that every human is on a journey, and we’re all at different pit stops along the way. Some are just starting out, others are at the same pit stop as you, and others are beyond you. This is okay.
3. Enter into open dialogue, not debates.
A conversation should go both ways. It’s like playing catch. It’s no fun to toss a ball to someone and they never toss it back. Allow the back and forth, ask questions, lean in.
It is not a win to convince someone to agree with you. It’s a win when those trying to express their feelings and experiences have the opportunity to do so.
4. Frame questions respectfully.
Consider responses that go deeper. Use phrases like, “tell me more…” and “how did that make you feel?” Then listen without framing your response.
5. Respect one another’s unique journey and perspective.
God created humans to be different. We all have different lives, experiences, circumstances, and opinions. God did this on purpose. Our differences make us better. They make our society creative and innovative. Embrace this!
6. Honor relationships over the need to be right.
Commit to doing everything you can to preserve relationships this season. It might not be easy, but imagine the appreciation and gratitude others will have when they see you care more about them as a person than their opinion or politics.
And remember, their opinions are based on a different life experience than your own. Their experience isn’t wrong, it’s different, and that’s okay.
7. Believe you are engaging in a story bigger than your own.
This is way bigger than one relationship or one holiday meal. This is a new way of living. It is a way of living that honors other people, their experiences, and allows them the grace to be on the journey.
Will we make it through this season unscathed? Maybe not. But we can do our part. We can do our very best and own our role.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”