Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
We live in a small neighborhood where everyone knows each other and gets along very well. Recently two families that we know and are friendly with became embroiled in a serious machlokes with each other. I do not think the specific details are necessary to share and I want to protect confidentiality but this is not an issue that someone just didn't get shlishi. It is hard to figure out what is actually even the truth because so many allegations are being thrown back and forth. It has become impossible to know what to believe because if one side says "black" the other says "white" with each one completely certain of their position. It is really hurting the community. Both sides are insisting that they are right and both want our support. We would like your general advice on how to deal with this kind of situation. Is there a way we can figure out who is right? Is that even possible? Is there a way to support both of them? How can we stop ourselves and our community from being drawn into this whirlpool of a fight without losing our friendships with these families? Thank you for your much needed advice.
You ask a few questions and they are all related to general community issues. I don’t believe that they fall within my purview as a therapist. As such, my “response” will be short, and will contain many questions.
You speak of how to figure out who is right in this argument. Does this really matter? Clearly, each party is entrenched in their position. In such a situation, is there really a way to determine right and wrong? Is there a right and wrong? In addition to the initial point of contention, many other grievances have likely added to the division. Even if you could identify which party is objectively correct, will this make any difference to the party that is not?
You wonder whether “we” can determine who is right. If by “we,” you are referring to the community as a whole, there is already likely some division among community members (at least intellectually if not emotionally). I think that the question is to what degree the community will be drawn into this feud, and which community members will.
I would assume that the community has a leader or leaders. Does the community as a whole really need to become embroiled in this argument? Can the community leaders take point on this situation and advise community members to remain neutral? I am aware that remaining neutral is often viewed by the involved parties as taking the others’ side. However, if the leaders have the respect and support of the community, perhaps their request that the community members allow them to moderate the situation without outside involvement will mitigate this feeling.
With respect to the ability to support both families, this can be quite tricky. Theoretically speaking, it would make sense to support each one’s right to their opinions without necessarily agreeing with them. However, depending on the people, relationships, and context, this can easily be viewed by each party as agreeing with them or disagreeing with them. This, of course, places the community in jeopardy of a rupture—leading to a major community-wide problem, rather than one limited to the two families involved.
It can be difficult to stand by without trying to help, but we need to recognize when our “help” is more likely to become a detriment. In these instances, it is the hope that the intervention of the community leaders can result in a successful resolution.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200
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