THE BLOG

Arab-American Diplomacy With Teenagers

08/02/2013 10:52 am ET | Updated Oct 02, 2013

I've had a unique opportunity to welcome a wonderful group of Palestinian teenagers to a program I've been working on for the last 15 years. At our resort in Colorado, we invite students to participate in outdoor adventures, relational development, and leadership training. At KIVU, teenagers are free to be who they want to be, explore adventures they've never done before, and meet other students from all over the world. They engage in high adventure activities while meeting and exchanging culture, ideas, and most of all we encourage a whole lot of fun!

This week has been especially meaningful for me, as some of these kids have never been to America before. We had a unique opportunity to welcome people into the gates with open arms. They rafted, biked, hiked, did our ropes course, and smiled the entire time. Every day one of them would say, "This is the BEST day of my life." And I would smile back and give a huge high five.

In light of the negotiations happening in Washington and around the world, I had a chance to witness with my own eyes how people can work together to forge deep friendships. Even in misunderstandings of tradition and circumstance, there's always a place to find common ground.

A few days ago, I led a Road Biking Expedition around our local lake. It's a beautiful ride with views of some of the biggest mountains in Colorado. Our Middle East friends had never ridden a road bike before, so there was much to work on in the beginning. We taught them the shifting mechanisms, how to ride close to the side of the road, and ultimately we were the voices of encouragement as they tackled some pretty steep sections of the road.

At one of the tops of the mountains we stopped and the kids were asking, "How much longer? What time is it? When are we getting to the finish?" Over and over again, when finally I just took them to a beautiful point. We laid the bikes on the side of a pine tree that must reach 100 feet to the sky. I told them to look out at the lake, enjoy the mountains, breath the pine fresh air, listen to the streams running by; and in an instant I could see their countenance changing. The stress of life just melted away at the top of that hill.

One of them looked over at me and said, "Thank you for this!" And once again, I felt like my work was valuable. Here are kids who've never met an American before, let alone been privy to such a unique outdoor adventure, and a simple 'Thank You' meant the world. It was as if we formed a story, a bond of friendship that day, and every day since I continue to hear, "This is the BEST day of my life!!"

I wonder if it's possible to transfer this experience to a place where anger and resentment takes center stage?

I wonder if it's possible to create a bridge of trust through developing stories together?
Certainly we don't have to do ropes courses or bike rides with heads of state, but maybe there's a place, a program, a reason for those involved in intimate negotiating to stop and forge friendship.

Or maybe....

The divide has been driven too dark, too deep, and too much mistrust foils even the best intentions.

Maybe, our only hope for working hard problems around the world is to introduce principles and concepts to the future.

I'm excited to watch my American friends and my Middle East friends take a courageous step in helping to form relationships that may span for years to come. Today is the BEST day!

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