07/29/2014 04:09 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2014

What to Do With Our Grief Over the Mid-East Crisis?


We are three weeks into the Mid-East crisis and the only thing everyone can agree on is that it's terrible. The death toll on both sides, as is repeatedly pointed out in every media outlet, is mounting.

That is about as productive as the dialogue gets. It's where the grief starts and ends. The rest -- newspaper articles, Facebook posts, Twitter messages, television clips, radio sound bytes on the issues -- simplify a complex situation, divide people around the globe, and create growing intolerance, hatred, aggression, rage, and violence that is neither productive nor helpful to the people of Gaza, Israel or the rest of the world.

Grief, the intensely painful emotion that results when a meaningful loss has occurred, can do one of two things. If the unbearable emotion can be tolerated, grief can be used to bring people closer together, to slow things down, and to think things through. Almost every culture around the world has rituals that support these three aspects of grieving.

For example, both Muslims and Jews gather together to mourn their dead in communities, bring food to the grieving families, and offer social support to those who are mourning. Muslims mourn for three days, Muslim widows for just over four months. Jewish people mourn for seven days and have a one-year grieving cycle. Both cultures enforce community support and taking time to thoughtfully process loss.

When grief can't be tolerated, when we can't sit with the pain of loss, when it doesn't bring people together or force them to slow down, it transforms into anger, vengeance, intolerance, hatred, rage and thoughtless action. In the Gaza-Israel conflict this has most certainly been the case. The "day of rage" in the West Bank, the frightening and increasing expressions of anti-Semitism around the globe, the intolerance for critical dissent in Israel, the hate speech/crimes committed on social media sites are all examples of what happens when we cannot tolerate the pain of grief. None of these events or trends are productive, progressive or reasonable. All beget more rage and violence when what we should be seeking is peace and resolution.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are groups using their grief to advocate fiercely for peace. The Palestinian/Israeli Bereaved Families For Peace organization, for example, is a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization with over 600 families, all of who have lost a close family member in the prolonged Middle East conflict. At the core of all of their activities and actions is the intense grief over their loved ones. It is the unifying factor that brings everyone together in this shared mission. Every event and activity begins and ends with remembering the dead, grieving over the losses, and linking together the deaths, their pain, and their grief with the promotion of -- and justification for -- peace and non-violence.

No matter whose side you are on, one thing is entirely clear: We have a lot to grieve over and it hurts like hell.

Turning that grief into aggression, rage, revenge and anger in the form of hateful posts, violent protests, or further divisiveness among people and nations is not the way to go if you care about human life, human rights, or peace.

Let's pause and remember that grief can bring us closer together or drive us father apart. The choice is up to you.