Learning to live experience in the Holy Land

Over winter break, I was blessed to go on the Xavier Holy Land study abroad program to Israel. During my high school career, I became both educated and passionate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a high school student applying to Xavier, I was elated at the idea that I may get to go to the Holy Land. Even more enticing, I had always been very connected to my faith, and I was excited to have the opportunity in my academic career to explore the history of the tradition I held so dear.

If you know me, you know that I am incredibly outspoken. I am not one to bite my tongue in any scenario, let alone when I feel passionately about something.  On my trip to Israel, I wanted to put my own bias aside and hear all of the lived experiences being presented to me. I did not want to make what I felt was an inherently political trip so polarizing that it crippled my experience.

So, I challenged myself. For me, being silent when I had more than a few words to say was an exercise. Like, harder than running up the Elet stairs. But it felt necessary. I have a lot of entitlement when it comes to my opinion. I value others’ thoughts, but I often feel very deeply about an issue, and then I forget that not everything is black and white. My opinion is influenced by my lived experience, and I get caught up in debates that make me forget that others’ opinions are intrinsically tied to their lives, too.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is horrendously complicated. To explain it, even briefly, in an op-ed would be not only idiotic but would also disrespect the lived experience of all of those involved. So, I won’t. What I will do is outline a few lessons I learned from my internal struggles on the trip.

First, why the “Us vs. Them” mentality? I personally worked very hard on the trip to keep my professionalism in group discussion, masking my own opinion to the best of my ability. One day, though, I found myself overwhelmed with the conversation at hand and the language being used. In so many political narratives, there is an “Us” and a “Them,” and someone benefits from “the other.” The differentiation of the human race and the demonization of whoever is different leaves an unerasable mark on discourse in its duration. So much so that the language used to discuss issues as sensitive as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is privileged to one side. For me, the “Us vs. Them” mentality brings up one resounding question: Who benefits from the difference? I have accepted that wherever we see the making of someone as “other,” someone is profiting. But why? And how? 

Second, you have to accept that no matter how much you know and how passionate you are, you have much to learn. You always need to consider what you may not know. Each and every person you meet has something to teach you, and you have something to learn.

For me, my confidence can often come off as arrogance, even when I am eager to learn. As I sat surrounded by opinions different than my own, I was reminded that in the grand scheme of things, I knew absolutely nothing. It was not my lived experience, and I did not get to decide that feelings and emotions were negligible in the political climate. They aren’t. In the end, I care more about the individuals than I do about being right or proving my point.

This brings me to the third thing I realized. If I truly want to embody cura personalis and care for the whole person, that includes when I feel strong politically. That includes me swallowing my pride to listen to someone and hear them out, and it includes me challenging my own bias. It is accepting that I do not know what I have not lived and that I have many things to learn.

I guess you could say I learned a lot on my study abroad to Israel, but perhaps it is a bit different than what I had imagined I would learn when I first heard about the program. Sure, I learned where Jesus walked, but I also learned a bit more about how I should live in my faith and walk in Jesus’s footsteps.

Brianna Ledsome is a senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and political science double major. She is a guest writer for the Newswire from Youngstown, Ohio.