The Rotary Club of Pismo Beach / Five Cites
Joanne Crandall, First Place
Grade 11, Arroyo Grande High School
Teacher: Mrs. Dixon
Throughout much of human history and in many religious belief systems, we humans have been taught to “treat others the way you would want to be treated.” All too often, we apply this lesson solely on a personal level—very rarely is such a positive and beneficial mentality applied in dealing with large groupings of people, such as those of different religions, ethnicities, genders, nationalities, etc. In my own life, I have found this all too obvious as I watch the progression (or lack thereof) of the Arab-Israeli peace talks. From a young age, I have been greatly interested in international relations—particularly, as I have gotten older, the Middle East. I cannot recall a time in my life when the Middle East was not facing some sort of turmoil. This conflict became an immediate and personal part of my life when I attended a summer program in Maine with other teens from the United States, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine. In my experiences there, I learned that even though it is difficult to apply the 4-Way Test’s messages of truth, fairness, and friendship on a nation-to-nation basis, when we interact on a human-to-human level its messages prove incredibly fruitful and rewarding.
At the outset of the camp, the Arab and Israeli teens greatly mistrusted and feared one another. Living together in bunks and dining together in the main hall, their relations were civil, at best, and incredibly tense. Indeed, the only preconceptions they had of each other were the stereotypes that had been inculcated in them from a young age. Such fear and stereotypes made it difficult to build “good will and better friendships.” But soon, our human commonalities, particularly our teenage similarities, began to spark some discussion and tentative friendship. Palestinians and Israelis discovered mutual loves of sports, dance, swim, fashion, music, and so many other common teenage interests. These commonalities formed the initial basis for burgeoning friendships. The other primary motivator for friendship was competition; we were constantly grouped into teams that sparked friendly rivalries, nationality was irrelevant. Surrounded by the best and brightest from several nations, competition was stiff in everything from soccer to cooking to memorization contests. Our competitions showed that there is nothing like a common “enemy” to unite a group and create a spirit of camaraderie. Thus, I learned that even when the goal is not directly to “build good will and better friendships,” both competition and common interests can certainly further that end.
Thereafter, as the Arabs and Israelis began to talk with one another on a more substantive level, they already had the foundations for friendship. Such cross-conflict discussion helped dispel irrational fears of “the other side” and debunk long-held stereotypes. Our discussion, therefore, followed the 4-Way Test model unintentionally, as it built goodwill and close friendship—certainly beneficial for all of the campers concerned. And, quite frequently, when they returned home, campers further disseminated their newfound tolerance and knowledge amongst friends and family, sewing seeds of peace. Indeed, while not every camper returned with equal confidence in their new friendships, each camper certainly returned home with at least slightly more good will and hope for the future. This good will, in turn, sparked further spread of knowledge and destruction of stereotypes…that is until hostile diplomacy and politics proved overwhelming and disheartening. Once they returned to their native countries, some campers became so frustrated with the setbacks they constantly experienced that they embraced their old fears and stereotypes about the other side—forgetting their newfound friends.
Therefore, the problem lies at the governmental level. Although really the governments are made up of people—people who could make friends from the “other side” just as easily as my Palestinian and Israeli peers—it is often easier for them to get caught up in national issues and selfishness than to promote tolerance, truth, and good will. Even though my friends learned lessons of understanding and friendship, I see their hope and good will hurt, or even shattered, by the bitterness of the political peace negotiations.
Thus, perhaps the leaders involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict would do well to learn some lessons from the teenagers of their own nations. Perhaps instead of solely promoting their own interests, these governments should take time to consider if they are being true to themselves and their consciences, modeling themselves after the 4-Way Test question, “Is it the truth?” For while neither side is going to agree about the truth of the supposed “facts,” they owe it to their people to be as honest and open as possible. Perhaps instead of using whatever means possible to get ahead, these governments should consider if their actions will be fair and helpful to both sides—what if they were on the other side? Or, as the 4-Way Test asks: is it fair and will it be beneficial to all concerned? Indeed, it does not take long to learn those lessons on a human level—even children know them—so the highly educated leaders of government would be well-advised to learn as well. Perhaps instead of dramatizing and heightening stereotypes of “the other” side, these governments should do their best to promote the notion that we are all humans, with countless commonalities—taking into consideration the 4-Way model to “build good will and better friendships.” If kids can bond over a mutual love of soccer, I would think that adults could also find something in common. Once governments adopt the ideal of the 4-Way Test, the natural progression of the test on a human-to-human basis will help create more lasting peace.
While I realize these goals may seem overly idealistic or quixotic—for they are incredibly difficult for governments to realize on a practical, real-world basis—I will not give up my hopes for a more optimistic future. With a little bit more service, a little bit less self, and the 4-Way Test, I hope that we can achieve a brighter future. Having seen at camp “the way life could be,” I continue to strive for it every day…because in my opinion it is “the way life should be.”