Continued ruminations on fighting across global boundaries in the new global society
Part II: Uri gets involved
Uri, as I mentioned in the first part of this piece, is a Russian-born Israeli. When we speak online, usually over some chat program, he's funny and clever. He works with kids and he has a lot of adorable stories about things kids say.
I know because of my husbands connection to RPGs, which Uri also writes, that certain American groups won't work with him because they think he's racist. Yet I in my very white, middle class progressivism, see something else in him. He's a foreigner everywhere he goes. He speaks great English, sometimes with a Russian accent, sometimes with an unplaceable accent, a mix of Russian and Hebrew that comes out more as a general "not native" kind of English.
He has the same problem with Hebrew. He is forever an outsider, and it shows in the way he quantifies the world, telling me that people are of a slightly different ethnicity, that he can detect the ethnic differences in various individuals we encounter when walking in the Spanish streets.
There is never any malice in his descriptions. Occasionally he will express mild fear. Once when he was alone here, he saw two men giving information about the Free Syrian Army. They had what he described as a Da'ish flag. (ISIL) He was curious and stood and listened, but he decided not to talk to them "in case it caused a scene." He said he regretted that he didn't stop afterward, because in hindsight he thought it would have been okay.
I long ago trained myself not to talk about race or ethnicity. Or maybe I just stopped needing to. He's 30, but seems younger. He has a university degree. (It cost €1200, a shock to me. My recent degrees have cost in excess of $20,000 a year.)
He does mention race and ethnicity more than I feel comfortable with, but I understand that he's not an American or a Brit. Race and ethnicity is openly a bigger deal where he comes from. (That isn't to say it's not a big deal in the US. Recent events have clearly shown that it is. But we're less open about it.)
When we lightly argue about issues, he does what most Americans don't do. If he knows nothing about an issue, he won't argue from a place of ignorance. But when he has an opinion, I can feel more than see him close down slightly when I say something that doesn't align with him views. We've been doing this for several years, mostly in writing. It always ends well. We joke and laugh. He tells me I apologize too much. I apologize.
We are more alike than he thinks, and yet there is a core difference between us. He claims apathy about the issues that I obsess over.
"You're very political," he tells me the day after he arrives. "Why?" The question catches me off guard. Am I political? I hate politics, but I've felt compelled in recent times to participate in issue discussions. Why? I find myself lying awake that night thinking about this question. And I ask myself, How could he not be political? His answer is that he likes to focus on the things he can control. Being kind to people he meets. Helping injured animals. Being helpful to others. Taking extremely good care of his gaming students (he plays Dungeons & Dragons with kids in school sponsored after school activity groups for a living).
But what about the bigger stuff? He asks me if I feel I've ever made a difference with all of my political talk. "Not by myself," I say. He is right in a way. I spend a huge amount of energy and spend a lot of time dealing with the dark emotions provoked by exposing myself continually to the way that people treat each other in the world and on the internet. He says, "Why don't you just do the things you care about?" That's the question, isn't it?
I realize over the course of thinking about it, that these things are what I care about. But as we talk, sharing clearly the same kind of open attitude to discussion and a similar curiosity about how things work and what has happened in various places, I can see that our processing of the information arrives at different conclusions. I have hit this level of interaction before, the layer of assumptions, the base knowledge that we all gain as part of growing up in our particular cultures when I moved to England, I country I once thought of as America with an accent. It can't really be replicated if you go to a culture as an adult. If you're very open, you can glean some of it. But you can never time travel back and put in all the "history as it happens" information you would need to fully grok a very different way of life.
Our mistake when we try to discuss issues with people from other cultures, is in ignoring the basic building blocks of our different upbringings. The beliefs we don't even know we have until thrust into a situation where we have to form an opinion or choose a path. The other mistake we make is thinking someone from a different place should reach the same conclusion we do. Americans have this way of believing that they are always right. Our progressive beliefs are the right ones. (I think conservative, read more traditional Americans feel the same way.)
We judge people by our own standards instead of trying to understand their standards.
Uri and I talk briefly about the Green Party of the United States trying to write a platform policy regarding the Israel/Palestine issue. Instead of asking me what the policy was, he asked, "Why would you do this? What business is it of any American's?" My answer was that as a political party we were expected to have a policy. This caused a lot of spluttering and a tirade about how even though he looked white he was not white and we were appropriating things that we had no business appropriating. I think I understood what he was really saying. Why are outsiders always trying to decide what is best for us?
We have talked before about that. He feels that whenever outsiders get involved any conflict is prolonged. When they have a squabble with a neighboring country and fight it out, it ends very quickly. I can't argue with him there as I don't know. I do know that as long as America fuels itself mostly with Middle Eastern oil, it will be invested in the relative peace in the region.
I don't approach the topic of all the Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers. I don't mention the check points. It feels rude to talk about things like this with a house guest, when it won't do any good. Yesterday I talked about how I once told some Palestinians that I was Jewish in order to stop them saying bad things about Jews. When I told Uri this story some time ago in writing, he seemed upset. "Why did you do that?" he asked.
"I was hopeful," I said.
"That was stupid. What happened?"
"Did they still talk to you?"
"I can't believe you did that. That was a terrible thing to do to them."
"I was young," I said. "I didn't know any better."
I didn't mention to him that I had once told some Israeli friends that I thought we should boycott products made in Israel for human rights violations. He will probably read this and then we'll talk about it and he'll tell me I'm being stupid and it's none of my business. And then we'll talk about history and food and travel.
And then he'll go home and leave me to think.