As the disagreement around whether the Mosque should be built near Ground-Zero seems to be rising to a screeching hysteria, with each side absolutely believing it possesses the truth, it doesn’t seem like we are going to resolve this issue anytime soon. In the meantime, the animosity between the two sides is growing deeper, further dividing our country.
While the issues seem to be about freedom of religion, on one side, and sensitivity to all those who are still feeling the hurt on the other, there is a deeper issue at play here.
We need to question why so much of our political and social discourse devolves into extreme positions with little or no ability for each side to hear the other. Where is the desire to actually find solutions? Why are we continually reacting to conflict in the same unproductive or destructive ways without pausing to inquire what is at work here?
The reality is that unless we attempt to understand what’s driving these behaviors, we are doomed to repeat this pattern without any possibility for meaningful progress.
So what is behind this pattern? The conflict around the Mosque stems from the same place that most of our conflicts arise: our reptilian and mammalian brains which are wired for survival at any cost. These older parts of our brains are driven by fear and anything in the external world that seems threatening triggers a fight or flight reaction. While this issue is not literally about life and death, it nonconsciously feels that way to both groups, hence the extreme one-sided perspective. Each side is operating as if there are only two possibilities here: fight or flight; domination or submission.
However, there is another part to our brain, the Neo-cortex. This higher part of our brain is capable of seeing the bigger picture, both sides of an issue. It is capable of examining information objectively, without feeling threatened. It is capable of empathy and compassion. It is able to find solutions to the most complex problems. It doesn’t wish to dominate or negate another’s point of view; it wishes to find a win/win solution. Since it is able to see the bigger picture, its concern is for the well being of the whole. It can see several steps ahead and appreciates the long term consequences of reactive, unhealthy actions.
We can see how this plays out with the Mosque issue. The freedom of religion group nonconsciously perceives the idea of moving the mosque as so threatening to their personal freedom that they can only react with fight or flight. This reptilian reaction prevents them from seeing more broadly and becoming compassionate to the feelings of the other group. Choosing to relocate the mosque could be an act of compassion, and not a threat to the Constitution.
Likewise, the Mosque opponents, still feeling so much hurt inside them, that the mere idea of a Mosque near the hallowed ground triggers feelings of extreme threat associated with the original trauma. This triggers their fight or flight reaction and prevents them from seeing more broadly and being sensitive to the freedom concerns of the other group. The reality is that the Mosque does not pose an actual threat and Islam is not a symbol of terrorism.
In the final analysis, if the parties could engage their Creative Selves, they would be able to resolve this issue in a way that does the least harm.
The compassionate response would be to build the Mosque at a location that would not unnecessarily add salt to the wounds of those who are still feeling the hurt. At the same time, the Mosque opponents could acknowledge that the Mosque has every right to be there and that moving it would be a gesture of good will and not something they are entitled to.
When we are at our best, we are able to discern the highest good and be there for our wounded and vulnerable when needed.