What the Syrian Conflict Can Teach Us About Trust, Understanding, and Leadership.

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While I was reading the New York Times article given to us by Dr. Silcock entitled, “Same War Different Country” by Thomas L. Friedman, I was struck by one point the author made in particular.

For a pluralistic society to function democratically, trust among it’s citizens is critical.


He explained that the countries in the Arab East are made up of a mixture of tribes and religious sects and is therefore pluralistic, but lack “tolerance, cooperation and compromise”- all of which are essential to a thriving, multi-sectarian society. Therefore, in order to function, these countries have had a dictator to “‘protect’ (and divide)” everyone from everyone else. They get along because the risk of conflict between the groups is government interference.

Because of this, he argues that the chance of a multi-sectarian democratic outcome in Syria is heavily strained.”In short,” Friedman illustrates, “the problem now across the Arab East is not just poison gas, but poisoned hearts. Each tribe or sect believes it is a rule-or-die struggle against the next, and when everyone believes this, it becomes self-fulfilling.”

He believes that, if we’re lucky, over time the smaller units that make up these countries will voluntarily combine into larger, more functional states.

While I agree with him on a logical sense, I began to reflect on our own democratic pluralistic society in the US and I’m left questioning.

Yes, we as a people are more tolerant, cooperative, and trusting than those in the Arab East currently, but do we actually uphold those values when we stop comparing ourselves to the Middle East?

We still have extremists, racists, and sexists.

As of September 8th, a CNN/ORC poll of 1,022 people confirmed that 50% of Americans believe that the President is trustworthy, and that only 1/5 people understand Obama’s policy on Syria.

So what does this mean? That we’re dysfunctional or unable to continue in the fashion that we have thus far? Not in my opinion. To me, this illuminates the possibility that it’s not trusting we should be touting, but understanding.

Do I think trust is unimportant? Absolutely not, but the way I see it, when someone understands something- whether it be a person, object, or experience- they’re more likely to be more secure in it’s effects whether or not they benefit from them. It’s difficult to be trusting of something you don’t understand, and therefore it’s nearly impossible to let that person, group or thing have any iota of control or power over you- the Middle East is a very good example of that. The unknown breeds fear, and without fail fear will immediately or eventually breed aggression.

In conclusion, I believe that maybe our efforts to play the role of “world policemen” are of a good heart, but somewhat misguided. I understand that the violence we’ve observed does beg for a violent response in the eyes of some, but it should be at least balanced with an incredible effort to educate and understand one another. And that this effort should be prevalent both within the dueling countries and in our own country. My blissful and probably naive hope is that as soon as we begin understand each other, our uncertainty, our fear, and hopefully our aggression will begin to dissipate and that we’ll be more able to solve our conflicts without violence or lost lives.

4 Comments on “What the Syrian Conflict Can Teach Us About Trust, Understanding, and Leadership.”

  1. I agree with you that in some regards it is concerning that we have a large group of people who trust Obama, while not nearly all of them understand his policies. I think this says a lot about democracy in our country and representative leadership. Having a large group of people so uninformed is never a good thing, however; I think that the American public trusts our leaders because we’ve had the opportunity to elect them. In many ways we elect these people based off of what we do understand of their ideology and beliefs then expect them to lead us with their expertise.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I do not know if there are good intentions -or what are the reasons why-, the USA has played the role of the “world police”. I do agree on that, as part of the world, all of us have to look for solutions to global issues, including the United States but not only them. Making an effort to understand other cultures by informing ourselves responsibly is what will promote tolerance towards solving conflicts without armed forces being involved. Trust is definitely important for leaders and this must be sustained strongly all the way.

  3. Sometimes the role of “world police” is pushed by the media more than citizens. In Syria’s issues the mainstream media influenced and stressed some points of that conflict and became it almost a particular American case than a global issues. It asked for US position instead to work for aware people and build coalition. Thanks for insights!

  4. The most critical factors of physical as well as verbal confrontations among people are, I believe, Misunderstanding and its “small brothers” that are intolerance and ignorance! Most of the citizens as it was already mentionned above,trust President Obama. But between that and understand why he is acting as he is doing, the may be the “Mississipi River” to cross before getting the meaning of Obama’s policy on Syria. Through That “Mississipi River” I am painting the efforts that must be done in order to seek knowledge and learn more, because education is a great part of what shapes people leadership skills, , it’s important to keep in mind thatn”The highest result of education is tolerance.” according to Helen Keller, when Abraham Lincoln strikes this powerful thought :“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”


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