In early October, the world watched as Hamas attacked Israel, killing and raping civilians, massacring hundreds of attendees at a music festival, and kidnapping over 100 people. The reaction to these events varied considerably. Some were shocked; some thought the attack had long been inevitable; some celebrated what they considered the Palestinian armed resistance to occupation; and others—many others—remained silent, neither condemning this mass loss of innocent life nor advocating for the continuation of the conflict.
Israel’s military response has evoked some even stronger responses, with some claiming “ethnic cleansing” or genocide and others suggesting that the military should bomb Gaza into the Stone Age, or saying that there are no “innocent” civilians on the Gaza Strip. But again, a widespread reaction has been silence. Surely the rushed evacuation of 1.1 million Palestinians in advance of a military invasion should evoke a compassionate, thoughtful response.
These charged responses—and the studied silence of so many—stem from our time of political polarization, our declining ability to navigate painful topics with nuance and compassion, and our fear of being ostracized for our views. Even when mustering the courage to speak out, we are tempted to make witty quips for social media rather than seek a dialogue that can help us to maintain and deepen relationships, even with people with whom we disagree.