Transforming Trauma Episode 039: Sulha, Humanization and Trauma-Informed Social Activism with Adar Weinreb
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In this episode of Transforming Trauma, host Sarah Buino interviews Adar Weinreb, a social activist in Israel who runs a grassroots project called Sulha, which comes from the Arabic word for “reconciliation” and “to make peace”. Their goal is to create an inclusive community of people from all sides of the ideological spectrum who can engage in nuanced dialogues on important issues, transform the way people communicate, and inspire real-world action. In this inspiring episode, Adar shares his journey in learning new and effective ways to bridge the most polarized human conflicts.
Adar focuses his activism on understanding the challenging dynamics within the Israeli and Palestinian communities in order to build bridges of understanding between the two communities. He describes the most fundamental aspect of his work: “If you're an Israeli or Palestinian or whatever conflict you might be involved with, it could be Republican and Democrats. If you ask somebody about themselves, they will share. And once they see that you care about them, they will be much more open to hearing who you are and what your side is.” This willingness to listen deeply to the experience of the two sides has been the pathway through which his activism and advocacy for social change has entered the world.
Adar and Sarah begin by discussing the history of the ongoing trauma between Israel and Palestine over the last 100 years. Adar summarizes the clash between the Jewish Zionist movement of returning to their homeland in Israel, who we refer to now as the Israelis, and the people who were inhabiting that land when they returned, who we refer to now as the Palestinians. Adar understands that though there are different narratives on either side regarding who started the conflict and violence, the reality is that there is now a long history of intergenerational trauma between two closely related groups of people who have national aspirations for the same land.
Adar aligns with a NARM-informed perspective in that he works to not take sides between the two sides of the conflict, and works to hold increasing complexity and the uncertainty and distress that goes along with that. He shares, “I'm not making a comparison between injustices. It's simply a recognition that at the end of the day, the people on both sides are harmed from this conflict. And as a humanist, I approach it as valuing all life of human worth.” Similar to the way NARM perceives how trauma creates objectification and dehumanization, Adar’s work focuses on the elements required for mutual recognition of humanization and supporting the process of intersubjectivity.
He goes on to discuss the different kinds of cultural and intergenerational trauma that both Israelis and Palestinians have been and continue to experience. He reflects on the impact of this ongoing, unresolved complex trauma, and how it serves to radicalize individuals and groups of people against an ‘enemy,’ making it extremely hard to feel empathy for those on the ‘other side.’
As Adar and Sarah reflect on the disconnection created by othering and dehumanization, they also explore the difference that it makes to connect with and humanize the other side. Adar specifically highlights the powerful impact of deeply listening to the experience of individuals on “the other side”. Similar to the NARM pillar of inquiry, Adar focuses on the value of openness and curiosity to another person’s perspective, whether one agrees or disagrees with that perspective. As he shares, “We don't know one another, and we have a lifetime of teachings and fear to stop us from wanting to get to know one another. But I have noticed from experience and in the work I do… after just a few minutes of dialogue, you could see how a lifetime of teachings and beliefs begin to change.”
Adar and Sarah reflect on the nuances of what happens when we begin to humanize the other side of a conflict, and how this move toward connection can cause a negative reaction if we are not able to authentically integrate all of the ways that we are affected first. They both agree that an essential part of this work is not to ask anyone to bypass their authentic experience, and to instead invite their authentic experience to be a part of these at-times painful conversations. Adar explores his understanding that while anger is a natural part of the human experience that helps to motivate us, it is also something that he is concerned about within activist communities due to the level of burnout that he sees. Sarah brings in a NARM perspective on anger, describing the ways that developmental trauma affects an individual's ability to relate in a healthy and mature way with their anger, and instead acting out our anger on others, or acting it in on ourselves. As Sarah sees it, “When you talk about activists really leaning into their anger, what I think we might say from a NARM perspective is that might be coming from a place of child consciousness, which is the trauma speaking.”
Their conversation closes with Adar and Sarah unpacking the importance of understanding human psychology – and particularly the nature of complex trauma – in order to be effective at social change. Adar sees two sides of the same coin of activism: personal responsibility and systemic change. Adar and Sarah agree that by understanding psychological processes like complex trauma, and how we can work together to address complex trauma, we can learn to listen to each other, humanize each other, and ultimately can become more effective social activists. As Adar succinctly states: “If we want to be able to change the world, it comes down to humans changing themselves.”
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Adar Weinreb is an Israeli-American working in blockchain technology. He dedicates his free time to social activism, primarily building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. Adar is the host of a YouTube show called Sulha.