Dialogue in difficult times: talking about the Middle East
CARE Services counsels respect, compassion, tolerance of differences

10 April 2002 | By Nancy Chapman, Public Affairs

Having barely assimilated the tragedy of Sept. 11, another crisis is upon us — the escalation of violence in the Middle East — and many Berkeley students, staff and faculty are upset by what is happening.

Kathleen Handron, manager of CARE Services for Faculty and Staff, thinks people are experiencing an underlying sadness and a reawakening of our reactions to Sept. 11.

“We see random explosions and death, and it forces us to revisit our grief and upset about what happened then,” she said.

While conflict in the Middle East has a long history, many are just beginning to take in the gravity of the situation and are feeling fearful — both of what might happen in the Middle East and for their safety here at home.

“One aspect of our fear is that the escalation in the Middle East could trigger additional acts of domestic terrorism,” Handron noted.

The crisis in the Middle East evokes especially volatile feelings because it involves religion and politics, she notes. “These are two of the most potent subjects for discussion at any time.”

As individuals, we can’t change what is happening in the Middle East, Handron said, “but we can try to control how we act with each other.

“We need to be very respectful to one another,” she added. “Part of living in a democratic world is that we live with differences and try to respect them. Try not to be hurtful or judgmental or assume that everyone thinks the same way about it.

“And most of all, be compassionate toward those who have family and friends and connections in that area of the world.”

Guidelines for discussion with friends and co-workers
In the wake of Sept. 11, the Tang Center published guidelines for discussing the national crisis with friends and co-workers. Those principles still hold:

• Continue to reach out to each other to talk about your feelings and views. Keep in mind that these sensitive issues will be personal and political, emotional and intellectual.

• Be aware of your communication style when speaking of difficult issues. Communication styles vary widely among individuals, cultures and ethnicities. Respecting diversity and cultural differences requires flexibility.

• Treat each person as an individual; don’t make assumptions, and avoid stereotyping.

• The same words may mean different things to different people. If you’re in a discussion, you may need to avoid words such as “terrorism” and instead speak in specifics.

• Silence means only that: silence. It does not mean agreement or disagreement. Everyone has the right to remain silent.

• Don’t assume you’re not making assumptions and value judgments. If your unconscious assumptions are pointed out to you, you may want to acknowledge them and explore them further.

• Feeling judged and feeling respected usually don’t occur together. Acting judgmentally may create a barrier between you and others. Try to respect differences.

The guidelines for dialogue, along with pointers for managers and supervisors on supporting others during a crisis, are available in full at; select “Moving on after Sept. 11.” For further assistance, call CARE Services for Faculty and Staff at 643-7754.


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