Theory of Change
The text below is written in the context of a Jewish / Arab encounter, but also applies in general to other conflict groups
What do they bring to an encounter?
The participants come to the encounter from a variety of motivations including the desire to create a future that will enable security and welfare for all. Many come with a load of negative emotions such as anger, fear, frustration and even hatred. Their knowledge is deficient and even erroneous both of their "side" and of the "other side" - the result of exposure to partial and one-sided sources of information. Their emotional system is often charged with defense mechanisms that make it possible for them to accept reality by clinging to a limited vision of it. Such vision makes it difficult for them to cope with reality in a constructive manner that could bring about change.
They are under strong social pressure to think and believe in a certain way and often, mostly when meeting a group from the other side of the Green Line, even with the objection of people around them to the very encounter with the "other side". In each of the groups, the sense of victimhood is commonplace: "We are the victim in this story, and therefore the responsibility for what is happening is on the other side, our victimizers" - a perception stemming from the trauma experienced by each side in the past as well as the present. This trauma stems both from real experiences and vicariously, from the adoption of and identification with the experiences of others.
Many of them, on both sides, have absorbed the perception that "our side wants peace and the other side does not," that "there is no one to talk to" and that "it is impossible to reach a peace agreement with them": those perceptions of one side over the other lead to despair and the belief that the only solution is victory with a future that is dictated by the winning side.
Even when the participants come to a meeting with real curiosity, seeing the other as equal (no less and no more) and a sincere desire to reach a just solution, they still have a long way ahead of learning and coping until the participants can work together for the common goal of a shared life that is fair to all.
What are the results we aim for?
The participants have the tools, the motivation and the responsibility to know more about what is happening around them, and to work together and separately towards a shared life that is fair for all.
How does this change take place?
Substantial and sustainable changes are rarely possible as a result of a one-time event, as significant as it may be. Usually, change takes place in several spheres simultaneously and over a longer period of time. Among the common theories regarding conflict groups some emphasis is placed on the encounter itself as the generator of change in feelings and knowledge.
In our view, continuous emotional support is needed during the process of thorough and comprehensive study of the issues relevant to the social/political situations, carried out through critical and creative thinking. Much of the emotional support takes place while processing the previous joint encounter and preparing for the next one. This should be given ample time, with the understanding that much of the emotional and cognitive process takes place in the subconscious between encounters and not necessarily during the encounter itself, whether the encounter is of one’s identity group or with others.
On the emotional level, it is necessary to release difficult feelings in order to make room for other experiences. It is usually easier to break free of such feelings by being fully listened to, contacted and acknowledged; first in the identity group, and then in the joint framework.
Recognition of the power relations between the groups in reality eases the process when the stronger group "lets itself be generous" and acknowledges the feelings of the weaker group. This acknowledgment gradually allows the weaker group to acknowledge the feelings of the stronger group, which in turn can advance and acknowledge more feelings and needs of the weaker group and so on in a spirally ascending process.
The very recognition of power relations is a complex process that requires familiarity with reality as experienced by both groups, since each group often experiences itself as victim of the other. The process of empowerment embedded in the program enables a gradual release from the real or imagined sense of victimhood, waiving "profits" and choosing to take responsibility for change.
The process of empowerment includes, among other things, clarifying and sharpening identity and values, strengthening expression and communication skills, identifying feelings and needs, developing tools for decision making and conflict resolution, familiarity with the sources of information and understanding their impact and more. When the empowerment process takes place within the safe place of the identity group, before the joint encounter, it is faster. During the joint encounter, the defense mechanisms (from the "other") enter into action, confuse and may make personal development difficult.
One of the things that make this process easier is when the encounter between the groups makes it possible to see the participants as individuals who do not necessarily represent the other identity group (who may be seen as a threat), and even as opposed to the "offensive" mainstream in that group. The confidence built on a personal level gradually allows for a more complex view of the mainstream. While the participants represent the mainstream that is perceived as offensive, the process is slower, but it often allows dealing with more complex and sensitive issues that are sometimes more difficult for the "moderate" participants to bring to the group.
A central emotional difficulty arises if and when participants recognize that their identity group - often their significant belonging group - in fact contradicts its declared values. The defense mechanisms begin to disintegrate while they develop variety of justifications that preserve the sense of belonging to the identity group. The strength of the identity group in the encounter (and sometimes that of the joint group) to serve as a support group, even if temporarily, eases feelings of loss, confusion, uncertainty, etc., which may arise at this stage, along with anger, disappointment and frustration.
One of the facilitation roles is to enable the participants - as part of the process - to view their own identity group mode that includes the participant’s family and social circle– with less judgment and more empathy. This view is the result of an understanding of the processes that have led to the present situation. It makes it possible to affiliate anew while understanding that a change can be made in society and that participants can take part in generating such change towards a society that operates more in accordance with its declared positive values.
An important stage in the process is the recognition that under cultural elements and affiliated social perceptions, the majority of participants share universal values common to all: basic concepts of fairness, justice and equality. Gradual recognition of the gap between such declared values and the actual personal and group behavior allows, again gradually, for a change of opinions and attitudes.
This emotional process is designed to enable participants to cope with a great deal of information, some of which is familiar and known, most of it new and some that contradicts existing information. The learning process is structured, enables mapping and organizing existing knowledge, examining it and updating both the information and the way it is organized while continuing to learn.
When learning is shared by the two identity groups, participants have the opportunity to discover new sources of information, to examine a variety of sources and to develop tools of critical thinking to deal with the contradictions between different sources of information
The broad picture that arises in the learning process includes not only more accurate information about different events, but also how each side sees these events and why.