Michal Cotler-Wunsh

From a Distance

From time immemorial, of the greatest mysteries to the human experience is the ability to see a picture in its entirety. We humans are limited to understanding facts, feelings and actions as we see, experience and live them.  Furthermore, try as we may, it is difficult to fully comprehend, anticipate or predict their manifestations or effects on the future.

In the attempt to enhance our understanding of the present, we devise and utilize certain, albeit imperfect tools, separately or combined. At times, we allow the dust to settle and expose the picture before us. This requires both ample time and appropriate conditions. At times, we look to the past in an effort to identify relevant information and apply it to current challenges. This is by no means scientific and allows for much personal interpretation and subjective application of both the past and the present situations. At times, we step back, or rise above, for a fuller picture or bird’s eye view of a situation. Some of us are better than others at this, but the hope is that doing so will enable us to see the piece of a focused moment in time in the context of the larger puzzle in which it exists.

On a personal level, we all experience these poignant challenges and their implications regularly. Our survival skills offer a learning curve that improves with time, often as a direct result of the scope and depth of the challenges faced. The more difficult the experience, the more likely the lessons learnt and internalized will allow to rely on them in the interpretation of and reaction to future challenges.

What we experience personally cannot be taught and is challenging to transmit. The emotional, subjective components of our experiences render them difficult to capture in theoretical discussion. It is possibly one of the most difficult observations for parents to accept, as there is nothing more natural than the aspiration to teach our beloved children to avoid the errors we have made, preventing the pain and suffering that are often intertwined with them. And yet, we recognize and come to terms with the fact that intelligent as we and they may be, we cannot prevent our children from making mistakes, nor from the pain and suffering they will endure in the learning process. The best we can hope for is to facilitate the process and empower them to learn from these experiences once the dust settles, to apply the lessons learnt in future decision making processes and to rise above the challenges in hope that the view afforded from above renders the sum larger than all its parts.

Our personal lives serve as a microcosm for larger issues. Friendship and support that we experience on a personal basis enhance our understanding of those in and between communities and countries. Fear and threat that we experience on a personal basis enhance our understanding of those in and between communities and countries. Challenges to our survival – physical or emotional – that we experience on a personal basis, enhance our understanding of those in and between communities and countries. I could go on. The point is that we apply the personal and subjective experiences and comprehension of our personal lives to our understanding of all forms of human interaction.

In addition to being bound together by our own humanity – advantages and shortcomings alike – more and more it seems that we are bound together, or separated by, our values. Transcending real or perceived differences that separated us in the past, global events seem to be challenging our understanding. It seems there is a new world order, one in which values of freedom and democracy bind together all those that cherish them, separating them from all those that openly call for their destruction. It is a paradigm shift from age old differences of race, religion, gender, ethnic origin, etc. The forces calling for the annihilation of the values of freedom and democracy seem to understand that they are bound together well, acting in unison towards the ultimate common goal of destroying all that they despise. Those powers have certainly understood the tremendous power of fighting in unison against their arch rivals – freedom and democracy.

Having come from the perceived or real differences of old, they know the weaknesses of freedom and expose the flaws of democracy. They are equipped with the understanding, knowledge and tools that enable them to manipulate the discourse, to abuse the system and to control the conversation. They know us well, while we do not even begin to understand their ways of thinking or operating.

Global events are transpiring at unprecedented intensity, rapidity and extremity. In the last few months alone, we have witnessed kidnappings, beheadings, stabbings, hit-and-runs, burning, and mass murder at a rate that headline news does not manage to capture. The rapidity is such that it seems there is no time for the dust to settle. The extremity is such it seems we do not manage to step back. The intensity is such it seems we cannot rise above to get a bird’s eye view.

If the proposition that yesterday’s differences are no longer relevant, or that what binds us together transcends what separates us, there is great hope. If this is accurate, yesterday’s foe can in fact be a friend, arch rivals can become allies, former enemies are prospective partners.  The tremendous potential for global collaboration and partnerships in addressing current challenges and all those to come is exciting.  The question is if we can take the metaphoric ‘step back’ and connect the seemingly disconnected dots, if we can ‘rise above’ in order to grasp the fuller picture. The intensity of events has the potential to render us paralyzed. It is so much to take in, occurring so rapidly and so forcefully, that as humans do on a personal level when faced with adversity, societies may be reacting by shutting down, turning inwards and preserving energies required for every day survival. It is perfectly human.

Unfortunately, it seems this is not a luxury we have. Considering the magnitude of the challenges ahead, it is imperative to reflect on and assess the reality that we are witnessing based on reliable, well gathered knowledge and facts. It is pertinent that wherever possible, we see the piece currently playing out as a part of the larger puzzle and recognize its’ place in that puzzle. It is critical that we rise above the events transpiring in order to see and comprehend the fuller picture.

One final thought, right or wrong, intentional or miscommunicated, thought through or not, the discussion which ensued as a result of the invitation extended to PM Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the topic of Nuclear Iran, has harmed us all. Rather than reading, discussing, raising and debating the actual issues, we are overloaded with political speculation, tabloid reflections and insignificant facts. In the process, it is quite possible that those that know democracy and freedom all too well have successfully manipulated it in order to advance their declared goals of destruction.

There is great promise in the possibility that we are bound together with so many around the globe by deep and profound ideals that are at the very core of our identity. In order to truly benefit from this potential, it seems that we must do all that we can to maximize the benefit of what we each know as individuals, communities and nations in order to get a fuller glimpse of reality, from a distance.

About the Author
The writer is a lawyer, research fellow, and policy and strategy advisor. She served as an MK in Israel’s 23rd Knesset, co-founding the International Bi-Partisan Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.