“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
As rancor and divisiveness continue to characterize most Jewish conversations about the enduring conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, I have learned much from Jonathan Haidt’s work. The quote above has been particularly instructive for me in my work convening influential Jews with two sets of unexpected conversation partners: the first, Palestinian grassroots activists and civil society leaders from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the second, fellow Jewish peers who inhabit different political spaces often animated by what Haidt would call opposing moral foundations.
I have been privy over the past few years to moments of intense acrimony and searing debate. I have watched people stiffen in fear or in anger when they disagreed. I have watched men and women weep because of feeling alienated from their colleagues and loved ones about this divisive issue. Rupture, indeed.
And yet, often in moments of profound quiet, I have seen something else: I have watched ideologues on all sides with opposing viewpoints find common ground.
Moral monism, “the attempt to ground all of morality on a single principle,” Haidt writes, “leads to societies that are unsatisfying to most people and at high risk of becoming inhumane because they ignore so many other moral principles.”
In the quiet spaces between the noise and acrimony, I have learned the importance of listening to my opponents, to those with whom I disagree. And, sometimes, I have been moved to see things differently.
— Yona Shem-Tov
I will approach Jonathan Haidt’s phrase, “Morality binds and blinds,” outside the context of his work. Despite attempts at demonization across the political aisle, good people of various opinions rise to be leaders and their desire to serve is exemplary. That said, all worldviews are not equal, and it is dangerous to assume so. Not all teams are “composed of good people who have something important to say.” And even when the teams are composed of players who have something important to say, their “coaches” may hold opinions that silence the players. Unfortunately, too many “teams” — such as ISIS and Boko Haram — constitute blatant evil. Sometimes, as with Hamas, the leadership and its charter state a desire to commit genocide against a neighboring population though the team itself may not hold those views.
The world is a dangerous place, and while overzealous fear mongering can be dangerous, so is naïveté. While we should continue to bring people and nations together to find commonalities and work toward shared concerns, we must remember that, at times, the fate of the world may depend on our side winning the battle.
— Daniel Alter
Morality binds us, says Jonathan Haidt, and modern Jews are ambivalent about feeling bound. We crave it and resist it. We want to feel connected, but recoil from obligation. We want community, but not membership. We protect our collective trauma scars, yet we keep rewounding each other. We attempt to dig our heels more deeply into one side or the other, and then we try to persuade others to join us on our side. If we continue in this manner, we will impede our ability to “hold our inner complexities as both-and instead of either-or,” as Quaker educator Parker Palmer writes, and, consequently, “we can’t possibly extend that kind of hospitality to another person.”
The spiritual longing for oneness and the tear in the fabric caused by our divisiveness create a ragged edge within us. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become one of the most obvious seam rippers.
Like Yona Shemtov, I have experienced the grace of quiet space where deep listening happens. I’ve had success softening the ragged edge with the following tools and resources:
• Ethical agreements about speaking and listening that ask different kinds of questions and encourage listening with respectful curiosity rather than mentally stacking up our opposing arguments while the other person is talking;
• Generous, patient mentors and role models who can guide us in new ways, hear our fears and worries, and instill hope and renewed capacity
• Letting go of being right and, instead, focusing on the integrity of the conversation rather than on winning the argument.
When we try out new ways of listening and speaking from the heart, there is hope for reclaiming our shared humanity. Are we open to being moved?
— Karen Erlichman
As a simple man, I’ll try to use simple words to describe much less simple thoughts. Concepts, rather than terms, should always be read in context. Reading Jonathan Haidt’s quote about morality, and reflecting on it within the Jewish-Arab conflict, is as challenging as reading it within the context of democratic elections or the Holocaust.
While I agree with my other three colleagues, I’d like to add some nuance. As someone who has spent years conversing and negotiating with enemies — with quite different morals than my own — I offer one clear insight: When seeking to resolve a deep-rooted conflict, do not try to reconcile narratives, values, or morals. And even stronger: Leave morality out of the equation.
People within most groups — including Fatah, Hamas, and ISIS — think that their morals are superior to ours; they are fighting for what they believe is a “just and true” cause.
In negotiating, when the goal is to reduce violence rather than to seek tikkun olam, one must exclude morals and values and, instead, engage in a power-based concessions-exchange process. Only once violence, fear, blood, and revenge are reduced, can we move toward a narrative-based transformation process. Not before. Not in our case.
—Moty Cristalemail print