By Amanda W. (Senior)
Nowadays, with social media and the internet as a main facet of our daily lives, we are given the ability to connect with people from all over the world. It allows you to discuss a variety of things with a variety of other human beings and enables you to have conversations that never would have been possible in the past.
On the popular social media app Instagram, I post about my favorite television shows, books, and other interests. Recently, a series of comments on one of my posts led me to have a conversation with a girl my age who lives in Israel. Initially, we discussed pets and dogs and she mentioned the fact that this summer they were enlisting. Curious, and at the time assuming they were also American, I asked them what branch they were planning on enlisting in. She answered that it was the army, but in her country, everyone had to enlist after they graduated high school. Intrigued, we continued to talk and I learned that in Israel they have to serve for at least two years and will take whatever position they are instructed to take.
Living in America, it is at times difficult to understand the issues in other countries, especially those in the Middle East, and so my curiosity continued to peak. What was it actually like there? Were the videos and stories in the media accurate? Did she even want to serve in the army?
She answered that she did not want to serve, given her own pacifist nature, but, “felt a responsibility for her country”. She explained that their country is “practically in constant war” and that all of the other people her age serve and protect their country, even if they do not want to, so that’s why she feels an obligation to serve as well.
Hearing all of this filled me with an admiration towards her strength in a situation that I, as a privileged person in a western country, cannot even begin to imagine. I have the freedom to choose what I do after high school, while she will be forced to do whatever her country orders her to do for the next two years, if not longer.
After reading her thoughts and views, I still wanted to know more. This was a chance for me to understand more and learn from someone who many of my fellow Americans would, unfortunately, be prejudiced against. I asked how her situation was and she explained to me that it was not ideal there. She stated, “There’s a lot of terrorism and the wars I’ve been in caused me to have PTSD and paranoia. Also, the religious people are kind of taking over some stuff, so there’s no gay marriage, which, as someone who is homosexual, I am not happy about.”
My response took a few minutes to even begin to form. I felt so powerless and my heart went out to this girl. A girl, who shared the same interests as me and had the same favorite fictional characters as me, was in such a terrible situation. When we think about the people living in war-ridden countries, I think it is very easy to put them in this one cookie cutter shape. We imagine them as the sad, hopeless people which we see on Save the Children advertisements or as terrorists, when in reality they are funny, interesting, normal people who happen to have been placed in awful circumstances.
When I wrote back to her, I apologized for her situation and the fact that she should not have to go through what she is dealing with. I sincerely stated that no words could make up for what is happening, especially since she is not allowed to marry someone she loves, a right which we have only recently gained ourselves, here in America. My heart went out to her and yet I did not apologize out of pity. I apologized because life dealt her an unfair hand. I apologized because I had spent the last two days feeling sad and down about my life when I have it so much easier than she does.
Of course, my problems are still problems, but hearing the weight of hers in comparison was truly a wake-up call.
After having such a deep discussion, we went on to talk about what gender equality was like in Israel and she said that women are supposedly equal to men in her country, but there are still issues with things like equal pay. “In many Arabic countries,” she said, “the government is cruel to its people and women are treated horribly, but here we’re pretty democratic.” I was relieved to hear that, and we soon moved on from that topic to lighthearted jokes and other more casual things. It was hard to believe that she was simply a normal teenage girl, just like me, but the more we talked, the more awestruck I felt.
In life, we do not know the stories of the people we see in the grocery stores or pass by on the highway. We do not know what they have been through. Or are going through. This girl has over 11,200 followers on Instagram and yet I doubt that most of them know what her situation is. They are not aware that her country is a war zone and that she has been surrounded by terrorism and power-hungry people. I was not aware in the nearly two years that I have followed her account and it has truly made me rethink my own impressions of people.
I think there are a multitude of things to take away from this story. The first one is that we cannot dehumanize the people who are in Middle Eastern countries like Israel. They are struggling over there too and those who are refugees from that area of the world cannot and should not be treated like they are less than human.
Second, we should not be so quick to assume or judge others. As a simple example, when someone at the check-out line in Target is rude or unfriendly, we shouldn’t judge them or make assumptions about them as we do not know what they are going through. At best, all we can do is smile politely, be understanding, and hope that their day gets better.
Finally, we have to listen. This goes for those with different political opinions, religions, or people who live thousands of miles away. When you listen, you are opening your mind to someone else’s viewpoint and you are giving yourself the ability to learn from them. I have obtained so much knowledge from others with this attitude and it truly goes along with the idea that there is plenty to learn, especially from your fellow men and women.
This is quite a long article and if you made it this far then you definitely deserve some sort of medal. But this experience was one so eye-opening and meaningful to me that I could not help but write about it and hope that perhaps some of you were touched by it too.
Since not everyone can have a moving conversation with someone about these sorts of issues, if this type of topic interests you, then I highly recommend the book I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I read it a few summers ago and given all of the topics and news stories regarding America and the Middle East or even the judgment placed right here in the states over certain religions, it was a fantastic read and is something I encourage everyone to be absorbed in and draw their own thoughts from.