Taming the Elephant: Active listening on Israel-Palestine

Taming the Elephant: Active listening on Israel-Palestine
Date1st Nov 2023AuthorGuest AuthorCategoriesStudent Life, Teaching

Right now, across the country, there are elephants on the rampage. What do I mean? I am talking about an analogy created by Professor Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, who described our emotional gut responses to big political issues as being like an elephant, and our rational minds as being like a rider on its back. The rider thinks that they are steering the elephant in the right direction, but all the evidence shows that the elephant charges off, leaving the rider to retrospectively offer up reasons to justify why the elephant went that way.

On the issue of Palestine-Israel, this is what’s currently happening to many of our politicians, to our communities, and in our schools and colleges – in corridors and at lunch, if not in classrooms. When something so emotive and politically important is happening in the world, it is understandable – and even necessary – for students to talk about it, and our role as educators is to facilitate that constructively. You might find that this is a topic that comes up naturally during tutorials, citizenship/PSHE classes, or extracurricular activities focused on volunteering or political action, but we shouldn’t shy away from approaching it during classes too. The conflict has clear relevance to the study of law, sociology, history, geography, and religious studies, to name only a few examples. In whatever context we discuss the conflict, we urgently need to find ways to help our riders take back control of their elephants. Here are some tips from the organisation I founded and lead, Solutions Not Sides, which specialises in helping teachers and students to do this:

  1. Empathy

Find ways to remind young people about the human beings affected in both Palestine and Israel – political positions and ideological commitments should not be allowed to trump our humanity. Our short film Rage, Revenge & Repair is a good discussion tool for this.

  1. Ground rules

Agreement that we are going to stand by human values of non-violence, equality and the rejection of hatred is an important framework for discussion. Let’s break this down a bit more:

  • Non-violence: it is morally indefensible to set out to deliberately kill innocent civilians in the name of fighting occupation or terrorism. Violence leads to more violence and continues the cycle.
  • Equality: equal rights for the human beings on both sides and international law should be applied consistently. It is useful to look more deeply at UN resolutions and international conventions on the issue of Israel-Palestine.
  • Rejection of hatred: A clear sense of what can be construed as antisemitism or Islamophobia is vital in the context of these discussions to ensure they are avoided. There are two main reasons for this: firstly, the obvious - because we want to protect Muslim and Jewish people from harm, and secondly, because racism is setting back the possibility of a peaceful resolution. Click here for our Guide to Avoiding Racism, and here for our Triggers and Positions Guide.
  1. Skills and tools

Students need skills of active listening, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. Let’s break those down a bit:

  • Active listening: This entails an awareness of how we often hear but don’t really listen, especially when emotional, and the fact that we all need to bring our elephants under control before we can really understand each other. Our nonviolent communication tools available in this resource can help with this. The practice of active listening should include learning about the historical narratives of both sides. Parallel Histories has some good resources for this, and booking an SNS session will also give students this opportunity.
  • Conflict resolution: This is an understanding of the fact that pushing for a win-lose outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to result in a lose-lose outcome, with the suffering and death of thousands more innocent people. An approach that is based on human values is going to seek a win-win outcome.
  • Critical thinking: This is encouraging and empowering young people to think for themselves about how this conflict could be solved, through listening to and understanding the needs of both sides. Websites such as ispeacestillpossible.com are a good tool for practising this approach, and booking an SNS session will also give students this opportunity. 

In the end, changing the way we think could help bring about a better future, which is what education is all about. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if SNS can support you in any way. 

Sharon Booth is founder and executive director of Solutions Not Sides, an organisation which works to empower young people through education with the knowledge, empathy and skills to promote dialogue and conflict resolution.

Similar Articles

of 17
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now