by Joel Federman

"As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races." --Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

"A human being is part of the whole, called by us the 'universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty." --Albert Einstein

When I was a little child, my mother taught me a very common (in the United States) prayer to say at bedtime. It began: "And now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep...." At the end of prayer, as I was taught it, was the line, "God bless mommy, daddy, Jerry, Alan (my two brothers), grammy, grampy, and make me a happy, healthy boy. Amen." As I said the prayer to myself each night, I began to think, "Well, maybe, I should include some other relatives," and began naming them by name in the prayer. As weeks and months went by, I began to add to the list, including friends and others. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it would be much simpler if I just added the phrase, "and all the people in the whole world," to my mother's list. That realization, for me, was the germ of the concept of "inclusive envisioning."

Inclusive envisioning occurs when people include the goals, aspirations, and needs of others as they envision their own goals and aspirations. It is very similar to what mediators and others often refer to as "win-win" thinking about conflict, which involves a search for mutual gain as opposed to assuming that all conflict is a "zero sum game" in which, for one party to gain, another party must necessarily make an equivalent sacrifice. Inclusive envisioning is an expansion of the notion of win-win, and in addition to conflict situations is applied to all of one's life.

Inclusive envisioning involves two processes. First, it involves enlarging one's vision to include wider and wider circles of people, including one's opponents in conflict. Second, it involves the inclusion of others in one's vision of the good.

Examples of Inclusive vs. Exclusive Envisioning

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be used to illustrate the dynamic between inclusive and exclusive envisioning, between either/or and both/and goal setting, between zero-sum and win-win strategic thinking. One way to understand the Middle East conflict is as a contest between inclusive and exclusive envisioning. At its best, the Oslo peace process between Palestinians and Israelis was an example of inclusive envisioning. Prior to Oslo, official Israeli and Palestinian (PLO) policies completely denied the legitimacy of each others' nationhood. But, throughout the Oslo process a growing acceptance by both sides of a "two-state solution" to the conflict occurred. The two sides recognized each other's right to legitimacy and began to view each other as "partners" in a process of creating a peaceful Middle East. Though the peace process was certainly flawed--Israelis continued to expand settlements in the Palestinian territories and Palestinians continued to bomb Israeli buses, shops and discos--the emerging paradigm shift toward inclusive envisioning was clear, though current reversals have made it seem almost dreamlike.

If one reframes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of inclusive versus exclusive envisioning, one begins to see that the interests and perspectives of those on both "sides" of the conflict who are able to view its solution inclusively are closer to their counterparts on the other side than to those within their side who cannot conceive of an inclusive solution to the conflict. For example, in this vein the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas can be seen as closer politically in their vision to the Israeli religious and political right than they have been to the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, in their inclusive envisioning, the Israeli peace movement is more similar politically to the most democratically oriented and pro-peace elements among the Palestinians than they are to the Israeli religious right settler movement. To give more specific examples, Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat and former Israeli government minister and negotiator Yosei Beilin are closer in outlook to each other than either is to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon or Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin.

The historical political dynamic within and between the "two sides" can also be seen in this light. For example, the Hamas bombings in Israel prior to the 1995 Israeli election furthered Israeli public support for the Likud party's stance against the peace process, and the loss of Yitzchak Rabin at the hands of an Jewish Israeli religious fundamentalist sealed the election. More recently, the "second intifada (uprising)" that rejected the outcome of the Camp David meetings in July, 2000, helped give rise to the election of Ariel Sharon, the current Israeli prime minister, whose repressive policies have further strengthened Hamas, at the expense of the Palestinian Authrority.

No Middle East issue more clearly demonstrates the potential of inclusive envisioning than that of the status of Jerusalem. Israeli political parties across the spectrum subscribe to the indivisibility of Jerusalem and the impossibility of ever allowing the city to be divided as it was between 1948 and 1967. At the same time, Palestinians are unanimous in considering Jerusalem to be the capital of an eventual Palestinian state. These fundamentally conflictual positions would seem to constitute an impassable barrier to peace between the parties.

There are those, however, who have applied inclusive envisioning to this conflict and derived a potential solution that would conceivably satisfy the fundamental needs of both parties. A three-day conference of Israelis and Palestinians held in 1993 addressed a "Two States, One Holy Land" framework for peace drafted by John Whitbeck, an international lawyer. The framework provided for joint sovereignty over Jerusalem administered by an umbrella municipal council and local district councils. (Whitbeck, 1998) Jerusalem, in international legal parlance, would become a "condominium" of Israel and Palestine. Joint undivided sovereignty and administration of the city, Whitbeck argues, is legally parallel to joint undivided ownership of property by a husband or wife: "While sovereignty is commonly viewed as the state-level equivalent of ownership, joint undivided ownership of land or a house (between husband and wife or, through inheritance, among distant cousins) is scarcely uncommon. Such joint undivided ownership is clear as a matter of law and comprehensible as a matter of practice. Joint owners must determine how their common property is to be administered." Further, Whitbeck points out, there is historical precedent for condominium sovereignty: the city of Chandigarh is the joint undivided capital of two neighboring Indian states, and Sudan was a condominium of Britain and Egypt, officially named "Anglo-Egyptian Sudan," for half a century prior to its independence in 1956.

The condominium approach to Jerusalem is just one of many creative possible inclusive solutions for the Middle East conflict that could be viable given sufficiently visionary Palestinian and Israeli leadership. Another example of people beginning to live an inclusive vision of the Middle East is the community of Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam, which means "Oasis of Peace" in both Hebrew and Arabic. Located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, this intentional community of Palestinian and Jewish Israeli citizens demonstrates the possibility of peaceful coexistence between the two peoples. The community runs a School for Peace, which conducts outreach educational activities, including Jewish-Arab dialogue workshops. To date, more than 25,000 Palestinians and Israelis have participated in School for Peace programs.

Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War

The end of the Cold War provides another example of the difference in perception involved in inclusive versus exclusive envisioning. It has often been repeated that the United States and its Western alliance "won" the Cold War through an arms buildup that the Soviet Union could not match. Such claims ignore the enormous importance of Gorbachev-era Soviet policies of glasnost, perestroika and "new thinking" in international relations that played the decisive role in bringing about the Cold War's demise. As Gorbachev has written, modestly downplaying his central role in those historic events, "President Bush has again said that the United States won the Cold War. My reply to this would be that the long years we spent plunged in the Cold War made losers of us all. And in our own time the world's rejection of confrontation and hostility has made us all winners." (Gorbachev, 1992)

By adopting policies that democratized the Soviet Union and which did not seek to impose its will by force over the nations that comprised it and its Eastern bloc sphere of influence, Gorbachev loosened the reins of control that allowed the Soviet bloc to disintegrate largely nonviolently. His philosophy of "new thinking," outlined in his book Perestroika, recognized the futility of the nuclear arms race and led to the creation of an arms reduction negotiating strategy that resulted in major progress toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, and thus was the other central piece that allowed the Cold War to come to an end. (Gorbachev, 1987: 133-253)

Failure to recognize the central role of Gorbachev's political philosophy of glasnost, persestroika, and "new thinking" in bringing about the end of the Cold War is a misinterpretation of history that does not allow us to understand the full meaning of one of the most significant historical demonstrations of the potential of inclusive envisioning. As Richard Falk notes, it also represents a series of lost opportunities that might have dramatically changed the course of history: "Gorbachev's 'new thinking,' if it had been matched or adopted in the West (during the 1980s), might have had an extraordinary demilitarizing impact: it might have moved close to the achievement of a world without nuclear weaponry, established in practice policies associated with 'comprehensive security' or 'common security,' and set in motion a powerful demilitarizing dynamic that would have included strengthening the United Nations and enhancing respect for the World Court and the rule of law in international relations (all Gorbachev-era policies)." (Falk, 1995: 220)

The Success of All Humanity

At its outermost limit, inclusive envisioning involves working for the welfare of all. It means seeking the goal of what social theorist Buckminster Fuller called "omnisuccess," or "the success of all humanity." (Fuller, 1981: 199) It means working for universal human rights, and rejecting any philosophy that proclaims some lives to be more important than others, whether on the basis of religious beliefs or the advancement of the global economy.

As I did when I learned to pray as a child, when we begin to envision inclusively, we usually start small. But, if we are consistent in our thinking, we must eventually rise to the conclusion that all human beings--ultimately, all living beings--need to be included in our vision of the good life and our actions to achieve it--and, if we are so inclined, in our prayers. On the level of pure vision, and of prayer, it makes things much simpler. When we try to bring that vision into reality, it becomes much more complicated. To take on the responsibility of being allied with all of humanity can be an enormous burden. But, the more people who share that burden, the lighter it becomes.

Is it realistic--or merely utopian--to think we can create a world of universal compassion?

For more on this subject, click here.


2004 Joel Federman

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