Witnessing…and With-nessing

Witnessing…and With-nessing

When my good friend Deena Shaffer and I were commiserating about how helpless, how powerless we felt in the face of the unfolding war in Israel-Gaza, the horror and tragedy of so many innocent fellow human beings caught in the hatred and violence of two relentlessly belligerent states, we mutually came up with the response of Witness…and With-ness. 

To pay attention, to know as best as we can, what’s happening in this conflict…and why. And to continue to pay attention to the violence/genocide occurring elsewhere in the world at the same time – Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar. To support people/organizations that are trying to bring ceasefires/peace and humanitarian aid to the region. And to engage with the people we know – Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim – and extending the circle to people they know, and people they know, to have conversations, dialogue, compassionate whether resonant or disagreeing. To move beyond reactivity to reflection and respect.

Guided by the moral compass expressed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” 

And trying to be the light, witness the light in others, honor the struggles of people everywhere to move out of darkness and war into the light and freedom.

The night before writing this post, I saw the film Io Capitano from Italy, based on the true story of two young men, Seydou and Moussa, who leave Dakar, Senegal to cross the Saharan desert by truck and by foot, encountering thieves and prison along the way to Libya. Then, not knowing how but coerced by circumstances to, pilot a small boat overcrowded with 250 refugees from Tripoli across the Mediterranean to Sicily.

Reflection and respect were so palpable at the Q&A of the community screening, I could witness and with-ness the director Matteo Garrone, two of the Senegalese actors, and one of the young men who actually made that journey. Learning directly from the conversation the courage and resilience of these young men, and the realities of American/European support for the Libyan government to detain refugees, making their quest for freedom downright dangerous. And the irony of young Seydou being arrested upon arrival in Sicily for human trafficking. (!!!) Not a single passenger died on the trip and one woman even gave birth – heroic! And real traffickers, and police, and military, remain behind the scenes taking a lifetime of savings and abandoning their charges to the desert, prison, the sea. An evening of witnessing and with-nessing that struggle, repeated thousands of times around the world.

One of my practices of witnessing and with-nessing the human struggle in all of the issues in our world today that evoke feelings of powerlessness and existential dread – climate change, social inequity, gender inequity, school to prison pipeline, racism and any other ism of othering – is to share films and books and podcasts like Io Capitano, that bring the beingness of other human beings to the fore. 

I write about the struggles of these amazing human beings to honor them and educate us all.  I have taught the skills we all can cultivate to engage in conscious, compassionate connection and strengthen each other’s resilience in workshops and webinars around the world. 

Is it enough to share such posts with 10,000 readers over the years? Io Capitano is now Italy’s official submission for the best international feature film at the 96th Academy Awards. Will it be enough to heal the world if another million or so people witness and with-ness the film?

Behind every human being who cries out for help there may be a million or more equally entitled to attention. How to determine which of one millions sounds surrounding you is more deserving than the rest? Do not concern yourself in such speculations. You will never know; you will never need to know. Reach out and take hold of the one who happens to be nearest. – Norman Cousins

The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt. – Frederick Buechner

I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker. – Helen Keller

May you feel empowered to discover your own opportunities for witnessing and with-nessing, all around and every day. And may you trust that presence and acceptance and caring and respect are what truly heals.