There is something about a schoolyard fight that gets people's attention. People come running across the school yard to see one ego against another; hordes of onlookers congregate quickly, hoping to see some action, spurring each side with taunts that might spark something into being.
When it was all over—either broken up by a teacher or reaching its natural conclusion—everyone drifts back to their daily lives; the release of tension allowing order to resume as normal.
Comedian Louis CK describes the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine like the fighting of his two children. At first you break it up and get both parties to come to a resolution; but over time, if they continue to fight, you send them to their room [away] to get them to sort it out themselves. After even longer it becomes a situation where your response is to ignore it and hope it doesn't interfere with your life.
Over the course of ten years, John Horgan has been running a study on the sidewalks of America, asking people if humans will ever stop fighting wars once and for all.
80–90% of people say 'no', perhaps unsurprisingly.
The most common response is that 'it's human nature'.
Really? Collectively, can we not do better than this?
Yes, the war in Syria is unfathomable and complex, and beyond what any one of us can get involved in.
Yes, the conflict in Israel and Palestine has been going on for most of our lifetimes and we can barely understand the different factions' demands, burdens or grievances.
Yes, the conflicts in South Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt are all tricky, confusing and not straightforward.
Yes, the wars in Iran, Afghanistan and the daily gun violence in America are beasts involving one tablespoon of political lobbying, two of entitlement, and a quarter cup of history—all stirred together with a cup of fear.
But I can't imagine what it must be like to grow up in a conflict zone; to go without basic necessities or to be fearful of each day; or to feel like your only option is to flee your home and risk it all with a mere hope of a better life.
In each of these global conflicts I keep waiting for one ego to subside, for a teacher to come and intervene, or for the school bell to ring to let everyone know that they can head back to class.
I feel powerless and hopeless—and it's hard to relate to these other worlds on any meaningful level because my life is so vastly different. But then I think of the power of the people, and remember that politicians thrive—and live—off the opinions of the collective voice. I'm reminded that we have a part to play.
Because aren't these people in Syria not my brothers and sisters? And aren't the fighters—regardless of which side—really just murderers, when you break it down?
I wouldn't want my sister to be murdered.
What if we all demanded that life should not be like this? That we, as a society, could do better?
Because are we really OK with this?
Who knows what 'the answer' really looks like, but surely our response shouldn't be complacency or inaction just because it's too daunting, complex or unrelatable.
I know that I don't have solutions, but I also know I have to keep raising it with people because of a cartoon I've seen that lingers in my brain, like a bad song on repeat:
'Why does God allow bad things to happen in life, like poverty, injustice and war?
'Why don't you ask him?'
... because I'm afraid he'll ask me the same question'.
Matt Browning lives in New Zealand and doesn't understand why people think conflict will make things better. He also doesn't understand what gravity actually is, or how trees grow from seeds, but he wonders if growing up means understanding less.
Matt Browning's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/matt-browning.html