A Jewish Family Law Attorney Reflects on the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting

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Have you ever said something, thinking you were clear and focused, only to have the other person in your conversation blow up in response?

What did I say, you wonder? Why are they reacting that way? I thought I was simply conveying information.

In the world of Collaborative Family Law, we call ourselves peacemakers. We work on communication conflicts, how to deal with and how to resolve such conflicts, and how to respond in uncomfortable situations.

Because you see, every success or failure lives and dies on communication.

The Path to Peace

Whether in the workplace, at home, in relationships or simply driving in traffic and cutting someone off or kindly waving them in in front of you, every communication can make or break the peace of your world.

In family law, we see far more of the breaking kind than the making kind. And as a Collaborative Family Lawyer, I’m trying to change that.

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If we redefine our work as peacemaking, then we approach it differently.

In my work, I help people going through divorce resolve conflict. The message, though, is beyond just families. Right now, in our incredibly polarized world, how do we change this conversation from political dichotomy to universal understanding?

Politics & Polarization

One conversation is not likely to erase the divide in our political landscape, but we can be less nasty, less vilifying of our opponents. And if every person attempted this, imagine what the atmosphere would become: calmer, closer to peace, thoughtful, respectful.

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During the weekend of the recent Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, I was attending a Collaborative Divorce conference in Seattle. That weekend, when I was focused on the words we use, the intention behind the words we choose versus the impact of those words, I received an email from Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, a Jewish food security organization. He was leading a bike ride through Israel with more than 200 people when he learned of the synagogue shooting. Nigel relayed:

“[Recently] we’d done a session with students from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, our partner on the Ride. Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian students, more than 30 of them, meeting in small groups with our riders. And we heard the same story, over and over, each one different, each one the same. This is how I grew up, this was my family… and I came here, and met these people who had very different histories from mine, very different understandings of the world… and it was hard…. And we wrestled…. And now we’re friends. Genuinely. Not that we agree on everything – we don’t – but we know each other and we care about each other.

We Don’t Have to be Divided

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“And what I said this morning was: the fault line now is not between Israelis and Palestinians, or Democrats and Republicans.

It’s between those who strive to use language with honesty and empathy and a desire to make things better; and those who use language to inflame, incite, exaggerate and demonize.

That is what our tree of life has taught us these two millennia – that language, and respectful discourse and truth are utterly central to being Jewish.”

And, I would argue, to being human.

Let’s find our commonalities and not focus only on differences. Let’s choose words that will elevate the conversation. Every conversation. Every day.

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