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The summer before my senior year in highschool I went on a youth program. Well, no, I kinda was a youth program. A bunch of Jewish kids from the states came over to Israel for 6 weeks, went all over the country and did all sorts of Israeli things (Americans are crazy about these root-finding expeditions. It's quite as bad here in Ireland as it was back home). Part of their experience was to have us, a bunch of real live Israelis, partake of the experience alongside them.

Sounds kinda cynical, but at the time we didn't think about it in those terms, and in fairness a swell time was had by all. It was as wierd for us to meet all these Americans as it probably was for them to meet us. They had all sorts of funny misconceptions about us - for example, they'd been warned not to expect the same level of hygene from us that they'd been used to, and not to complain if we smell. Let's just say they were very pleasantly surprised on that score. We thought they were all going to be spoiled rich kids who lived in mansions and drove convertibles to school which... Well, to be fair, a lot of them were. At least they were rich by our standards - none of us had a pool, or a car. They smoked and drank a lot more than we expected, though, which was quite cool. I guess you don't become neurotic like that till after college.

We had a lot of "workshops". We talked about "identity" a lot. What do you consider yourself to be - primarily American, or Jewish? A Jew, or an Israeli? What part does religion play in your life (in most of our cases - none)? There were lots of discrepancies. For example, we found ourselves to be far more nationalistic than them. Being Jewish was just a detail to us, way secondary to being Israeli, whereas for many of them it was central to their personality (especially the girl who was Jewish by virtue of her once step-, now adoptive father being Jewish, and that's all - that was a bit of a mindfuck for us).

The longer we were together, the more sensitive the issues we talked about. David, the quiet Chicago kid, said on one occasion that simply living in Israel isn't enough to be considered Jewish, something which I honestly had never thought about before. I kinda thought my status was assured. We expressed our resentment of the Jewish community in the US trying to dictate our foreign and domestic policies - they don't live here, after all. They said we should show more respect towards them, seeing as they give us so much money an' all. We said they should try and live here for a while instead of giving us advice from behind their fat bank accounts. Things progressed. Still, we were all good friends and got royally drunk whenever we thought the councillors wouldn't catch us (we were all underage, under Israeli as well as US law).

Then one day it all kind of exploded. I don't remember how it started, but I do remember that it was one of the only times in the whole summer we weren't sitting in a circle. We were sat in rows on chairs, with the councillors on a slightly raised stage facing us. Before we were quite sure what was happening and who was saying what, we were all yelling at each other - "who do you think you are?", "you soft Americans with your big bucks and your stupid ideas" "you wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for the support of the US Jewish lobby!" "well, next time there's a holocaust, we'll see if you don't come running to hide in Israel!" and so on.

And then the really terrible thing happened. The grown-ups jumped up and started placating us, smilingly cajoling us into sitting down, relaxing, taking it easy. I was furious - how dare they try and shut us up just because the meeting isn't going according to their plan? I was convinced they were political puppets, afraid that if they let any acrimony spread among the kids next year's program won't be as lucrative. I ranted on about free speech (I'd been picking things up from my American friends) and our right to express our opinions.

I don't know if I was right or not, but I know that after that one occasion, I became less and less involved in our discussions and meetings. I couldn't get worked up about any of it. I couldn't really care about something if I knew that I wouldn't be able to say so. So I just kinda shut down, and retreated into the back benches with the bored and the hungover for the rest of the summer.

I know it wasn't a democracy. I know that the people responsible for running the project probably had a better overall perspective on things. But from that one moment on, it just wasn't fun anymore.

Hmph. Fun != spontaneity, not in all cases, nor does "not fun" mean "not useful." The adults who were trying to "placate" you may well have been acting on the knowledge -- one that only wise people come to, regardless of age -- that words spoken in anger can only be expected to hurt. You might think you were getting somewhere... but you can say the most reasonable thing in the world, and if you say it in a hurtful way, your partner can't be expected to listen. We're all standing apart, restrained from getting too close, and through conversation we toss ideas to each other. Good conversation is a matter of improving your throws. Fighting is a matter of hurling your words really hard at the other fellow's head. It's a losing game.
Structured conflict resolution and cognitive behavioral therapy are examples of disciplines that seem cajoling, dishonest, and generally life-sucking... but their aim is to return rationality to the discourse, so that your experience is based on actual problem solving, rather than acrimony and escalating violence.

Of course, the adults may have been wrong anyway. Here are two alternatives to the generous model above:

1) They weren't trying to calm you down so you could talk out your problems; they were trying to squelch the expression of conflict in the hopes that it would make everything magically wonderful.
2) You weren't really in conflict with each other in an intolerable ideological sense, you were just blowing off steam, and were close enough that your friendships could endure it.

It sounds like there's some evidence for (2), so perhaps you're right in your condemnation. I just feel a need to speak out against the premise that when something is no longer perfectly natural and unguided, it's lost the potential for honesty and goodness. Also that if you have to do something that's not fun, it's invariably carrying the whole situation farther and farther away from ever being fun again.

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