Nuances...

One of the difficult things for me of being trained in academic work is that I became less able to simplify, take sides, be an activist. I became stuck on the idea that there is always another side to a story, there is always some detail untold, there is always more nuance to be had.

I've arrived in Jerusalem--a place where I never really planned to even visit, let alone live in--one and a half months ago. This has been an amazing experience because throwing myself in this very, very foreign place (from my personal perspective) made me realize the foreignness of places that I find very, very familiar!

In Jerusalem, I learned that you must be really, really careful when you try to find out what the "hidden" side of any story is, because that might lead you to be immediately categorized within a group that you don't really have anything to do with. Let me give you an example from my research project.

I'm studying the ways that people from here (from all kinds of backgrounds) perform their relationship with traditions of their culture/faith (mainly) through music (but not exclusively music). I want to study their personal strategies to resolve, on a day to day basis, the tensions that might arise between their life choices (often very modern) and what traditions expect them to do.

The thing is, when I end up mentioning that my project is cross-cultural, and especially if I give signs to a person from a certain group that I am considering the practices from members of group A with as much attention/curiosity as practices from members of group B, almost inevitably the person starts to explain to me all the things that makes the other group different. In other words, much of the self-definition of a person has to do with tracing the borders between their group (however they define it) and the other group.

This is not news to me, of course; I did quite a bit of research on the theme of psychology and neurobiology of ethnic belonging in preparation for the project. But what is a new experience to me, and is amazing and awe-inspiring, is to live this phenomenon in my flesh, I mean, to see it with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, and feel it with my own heart. This experience made me understand, from a whole new level, so many of my family arguments!

Ok, this might seem like a non-sequitor, but bare with me as a I try to explain. There is a lot of political turmoil in Brazil right now, related to corruption scandals. Of course, corruption is not a recent problem in the country, but that is not really relevant to my point (plus, I like musing about old problems as much as new, so...). What is relevant is the way some members of my family have a knack for categorizing me in the wrong category all the time, no matter how I perform my ideas.

For example, if I speak in defense of cash-transfer social welfare programs, like Bolsa Familia in Brazil or Arbeitslosengeld II in Germany, then I enter the category "petista" (supporter of PT, the Worker's Party). If I say I am in favor of access to legal and safe abortion for women who choose so, than it is because I am sympathetic to murdering children... You get the picture?

My project about the people of Jerusalem is helping me to learn a lot about the details and nuances of the political problems in Palestine and Israel, no doubt about it. But it is also teaching me how easy it is for us humans to group together what doesn't really belong together, just because that is the only way they make sense from our point of view.

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