It’s time to remove your armorDuring one of the latest round of mutual hostility between Israel and the Palestinians, I was handing out pamphlets advocating the end of violence and recognition of the humanity of both sides, and while many passersby were silently supportive, many others crumpled the paper with disgust showing on their faces, while others loudly hurled their strong objections at me. A similar attitude, to a lesser degree, can be found also in regard to interpersonal conflicts. Often one person passionately blames the other, while expanding copiously about the misdeeds and character flaws of his fellow man, while to an outside spectator, the blame as well as the colorful depictions can be shared equally between both. So why do we find it so difficult, when we are in a state of conflict it’s so difficult to see the other side and ourselves for what we really are - human beings who have made a mistake and have become entangled in a unfortunate set of circumstances, yet still possess the ability of remedying our mistakes?
It turns out that individuals who are involved in a dispute, as well as societies that are in a state of violent and prolonged conflict, gradually adopt emotional and cognitive patterns that may be regarded as “Conflict Mindset”. Those patterns satisfy some essential needs and allow the person or society to handle the conflict in a better way, yet they also have a tragic aspect; When conditions change and an opportunity appears to resolve the conflict and rebuild trust and cooperation, the Conflict Mindset raises suspicion and causes mistrust that prevents people from believing that a different reality is possible. Thus perpetuating the conflict.
The Conflict Mindset is composed of beliefs, opinions and feelings that dictate people how to perceive the other side, as well as themselves as part of it. Though this phenomenon is universal since it is part of human nature, it’s still surprising how the same elements repeating themselves in various conflicts which may seem considerably different - among individuals, among groups and among nation-states. Basically, the Conflict Mindset derives from the human ability to differentiate between “Them” and “Us” - the good side versus the bad one. When in a state of conflict this polarized thinking becomes extreme and influences the perception of the reality of those involved in the conflict. Like a tortoise that shuts itself out in its shell, making its home its castle, or a mediaeval knight wearing armor, the conflict consciousness envelopes itself around its possessor in an experience of total immersion; it helps its possessor to defend itself from threats, yet at the same time impedes its progress while severely restricting its field of vision.
The Conflict Mindset asserts the following: The other side started the conflict, and it has acted violently against me and continues to do so. This behavior stems from the other side’s violent and/or evil nature, a nature that’s irrevocably permanent. I was coerced into this situation against my own will - I’m a peace loving person- but since the other side only understands force, I have no other choice but to use forceful means to protect my interests and myself.
When it comes to international conflicts the interests defended become existential ones, and history‘s presence weighs heavily over people’s minds– lives have been sacrificed, allied nations have proven to be unreliable, and therefore the country’s’ citizens are required to unite and rally under one flag - the national cause to commemorate the fallen for the sake of the peace we all hope for.
Imagine you’re wearing a pair of purple tinted glasses and are completely unaware of that fact. Only when the glasses are removed can you see that your perception was colored the wrong shade by the glasses, a shade which has warped your sense of reality. That is the distortion caused by the conflict consciousness. As mentioned before, this state of mind is a natural byproduct of survival traits, and sometimes it’s even necessary to our existence. The question is: following the example of mediaeval knights, how do we completely remove our armor at the end of the battle?. Without the armor we can move freely, our eyes can see clearly. The horizon spreads ahead of us and we can see reality in all of its complexity and intricacy. Without the armor we can be more flexible and open to change, and work alongside the other side – our former enemy - to find a solution that is both beneficial and viable.
Good luck towards accomplishing this mission!