Thursday, January 29, 2009

On Parenting and Peacemaking

I am not a scholar on the Middle East. Not by a long shot. But I have presided over many an ongoing conflict as a mother...and I say ENOUGH! Everyone go straight to time out. You are all terrorists. Hamas - You're like a kid who can't figure out that his big brother is actually BIGGER than he is. If I were your mother, I'd tell you to stop hitting your big brother if you didn't want to get creamed. Fatah - You're the Eddie Haskell friend who talks nice to the parents and then picks on anyone you can to make yourself feel better about yourself. If you came to my house, I wouldn't trust you. Israel - You're the oldest child, so we count on you to be mature, even though you continue to pick on your little brother mercilessly, and bring home friends who do the same. If you were my son I'd be reminding you "to whom much (trust) is given, much (mature behavior) is required." If the world is a big ol' family...and I like to think of it that way...then we need to deal directly with these inappropriate behaviors from the warring siblings (yes, friends, Isaac and Ishmael were siblings, and so are Jews and Arabs). Our US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is ending day three of his "listening tour" of the region. It is where any smart parent begins with angry children. Listening. This was the first step Mitchell took in his years of patient shepherding of the peace process in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. "Talk to the men of violence first." That was where he began then. Step two - according to Mitchell's retrospective on Northern Ireland - Don't try to achieve perfection. If older brother is brilliant and popular and bossy and younger brother is scrappy and a loner and reactionary, you can't change that with a set of new house rules. You can draw some lines that create an atmosphere for new understanding so the kids grow into an appreciation of one another. Step three - Expect to perform a delicate balancing act, Mitchell says. Duh. When a compromise is afoot, someone's going to feel like a loser. The job of a good parent is creating a mood of win-win...and that is tricky. Step four - Display patience and scrupulous impartiality. If older brother gets away with saying, "you always take his side," or younger brother continually falls back on, "you love him best," you can't accomplish anything. Step five - Be prepared to set a deadline for an agreement. If you say, "Just think about it, will you?" nothing will ever happen. If you tell the kids, "You're in time out until we settle this...and, as a reminder, we have circus tickets next Tuesday," considering a compromise is much more inviting. Step six - Be imaginative. Take a cue from Dr. Seuss...he's been teaching us lessons for decades:
Then my grandfather said, It's high time that you knew of the terribly horrible thing that Zooks do. In every Zook house and in every Zook town every Zook eats his bread with the butter side down! -from the Butter Battle Book
Do whatever you can to make a point and make peace. Step seven - Get leadership from the top. Really...mom and dad need to be in complete agreement over what has to be done. Please forgive the oversimplification of centuries of unrest in the Holy Land. I have poured over and wrestled with the history of the conflict this week. Finally, today, in search of a real-life perspective, I called a friend. A bright and compassionate Palestinian-American friend. "I don't have much hope...it's been like this forever," she said. I asked her what she made of the bully big brother (Israel), and mom and dad's (US) apparent soft spot for the oldest child. My friend said this: "Any simple person can see the blindness of the US. But it's too emotional and too frustrating to even talk about." Okay everyone...go to your rooms. And no one comes out until you can play nice. Let there be peace on earth.

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