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Why Private Spaces Can Help Us Move from Reactions to Responses

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A secluded beach surrounded by mountains
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about spaces recently. In the wake of the horrific terror attack on October 7th and the horrific bombing of innocent people in Gaza by the less-than-functioning Israeli government as a retaliation, I felt like there was no space for me to breathe, no space for me to mourn. I felt pressured to take sides and feared (still do often) that whatever I said would be misrepresented, an invitation for vitriol.


I wondered how many people felt the same way. For me, my space begins with my morning pages. I can let everything out on the morning pages. I write for myself, and no one else would ever read them. The pain, the hurt, the anger, the shame. All of it spills on the page. And it’s a huge help. When I have space to have all the reactions to what’s happening, I can then calmly pick the response that fits best with my values and who I am. This private space for all the reactions gives me confidence when I enter the public space. In my private space, I can think about what I want to say and what I want my contribution to be.


The incomparable Elif Shafak wrote recently about how we lost the art of listening. But we also lost this sense of private space. Social media makes it look like Instagram or Facebook are our private space, but they are not. Social media makes it look like we have to think and feel what the group we identify with thinks and feels. And we jump in without stopping first at our private space. With people from all over the world in our pockets at all times, we are never alone. We have no private space to be with our thoughts, to figure out what we think and feel.


On the first few days after October 7th, I skipped my pages. It felt pointless, and I didn’t think I could put my feelings into words; it was so raw. But as soon as I returned to them, I realised what a mistake skipping the pages was. As soon as I returned to my pages, I found myself again. I wrote down my reactions, and by writing them down, I moved past them and on towards responses. I allowed myself to feel all the feels, and then I could decide how to respond to the unfolding situation.


After I came back to my pages, I realised that my work with the foundation and the book I was writing were, in fact, appropriate responses. I decided that providing an alternative to the narrative of fear and hate was an appropriate response. I decided that working to create spaces for mourning and pain is an appropriate response. Creating spaces where we can find a common language is an appropriate response. I traded my social media time for Duolingo and resumed my Arabic course. I find it shameful that Israelis don’t learn Arabic as a second language, but that’s a whole other post.


We must move from reactions to responses in private rather than public spaces. It doesn’t mean necessarily being alone. A private space is a safe space where you know for sure that all reactions are valid and that no one will judge you. My new email address (ipconflictrealpeople@gmail.com), by the way, can be used as such a space.

 

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