The significance of compassionately listening to differing perspectives

Conflict resolution professor shares peacemaking experiences in Israel, Palestine and Central America

Professor Karen Ridd describes the conflict narrative disparity between the Israelis and Palestinians. (Juan Cabrejo/The Omega)

Menno Simons College conflict resolution studies professor Karen Ridd spoke about her 2018 travels abroad last Thursday evening, particularly on her involvement with the 33rd Compassionate Listening Journey to the heart of Israel and Palestine, along with her experience in Guatemala.

The Compassionate Listening Project is an organization engaged in people-to-people peacemaking and teaches participants to listen to the afflicted people whose lives are profoundly influenced by conflict. Ridd gave a brief introduction to compassionate listening through sharing a few core practices, a small listening exercise, her experience last year in the middle east, as well as some of the narratives of people she met during her excursion.

“Definitely on the delegation that I was on, there was a chance to practice [compassionate listening], because we met with all sorts of people,” she said. “We met with settlers and right-wing Likud members who were saying things that I find deeply problematic; we met with peace activists, a Hamas mayor, a whole range of people.”

Ridd stresses the importance of analyzing different perspectives and assessing them through a compassionate lens. She displayed different maps of the same Israeli-Palestinian region and proved the point that the conflict isn’t necessarily black and white and how contested the West Bank is between both demographics.

“From the perspective of Israelis, this is a map which situates Israel as a small body surrounded by Arab countries and that is certainly part of the narrative for Israelis about what it feels like to be a member of their country,” she said. “A Palestinian narrative is very different, [the West Bank] what looks like a solid land mass isn’t a solid land mass, what has happened over the last 20 or 30 years is that Israeli settlements have expanded into the West Bank enormously.”

Ridd has been extensively recognized for her work as a human rights volunteer with Peace Brigades International in conflict zones, specifically in Central America during the 1980s; nevertheless, she has worked with communities in various international settings. She began her presentation by describing her intense experience in Panajachel, Guatemala where she witnessed a mother mourning the loss of her murdered son. The young man had happened to be employed by the Guardia de Hacienda or Treasury Police, a police agency responsible for atrocious human rights abuses.

“It was a few years later that I found myself briefly imprisoned by the Treasury Police in El Salvador and it would be very easy to paint that young man as the other,” she said. “He was emblematic of all that I stood in Guatemala against, yet I spent the night holding his mother’s pain and trying to save his life.”

That experience introduced her to the immense difficulty of remaining completely emotionally detached during a traumatic experience when dealing with two conflicting ideologies.

“One of the things that imprinted on me was that somehow in conflicts where there is deep trauma we need to hold both sides, maybe we don’t hold them equally,” she said. “It is very hard as human beings to hold both sides; it is much easier to see all the good in one side and all the bad in the other.”

Ridd expresses how powerful that moment was for her personal and professional development.

“It was formative in who I am and how I have come to be working on trying to think about this particular issue,” she said.