NSL is what it is, but even more, it is what you make it.
We can talk till we are blue in the face, telling you how great it is but full disclosure here- you are letting yourself in for an incredibly hard and testing time, meeting the other, the Enemy. Read this as the WARNING LABEL on the Medicine Bottle, that more or less says, KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN AND VULNERABLE ADULTS, or DO NOT TAKE IF YOUR HEART IS NOT STRONG.
You will likely experience times on the program when you want to run, scream, attack, and defend your honor. NSL every summer seems to recreate the conflict in miniature, and when that happens, the real work can begin. However, in past years, that is when some Fellows run for the hills, give up, and retreat to their defensive positions, blaming the other, excusing themselves, and reprising the victim story par excellence that NSL is focused on changing by vigorously challenging. Victims surrender their story to their pain.
If you came with the intention of defending your position, or assuming your experience gives you the exclusive claim on what is true, then you had better stay home. Honestly, if you are not totally honest with yourself and with the program, this could be the 7 most miserable weeks of your life, and in the process, you will hold everyone else to ransom. You must be very clear what your intention is, and be super clear what the program is and is not about.
This is NOT a holiday, though you will have plenty of fun. This is NOT primarily about your career and resume, though sadly, some seem to think that was all it offered them. Their disregard for the program during and even after it finished leaves a sour taste in the mouth of all the people who sacrifice so much to support them. They create a negative story that no Fellow wants to leave in Washington- because you want to be welcomed back.
NSL selects you because you want your mind and heart changed. Can I say that again? You come here to be deeply disturbed and have your world turned upside down. You are sick and tired of the old solutions that don’t work and you are ready to admit you are wrong, ignorant, ill-informed, brain washed even. You are ready to expose the lies that warring sides feed to the young to send them to war, those generations that the generals of all armies are willing to sacrifice. That is not exclusive to Israel and Palestine, mind you. Its the nature of war. War is fed on lies and propaganda and young people who are forced to drink the poison. The first casualty of war is truth, as one famous writer put it.
I am not trying to insult you. “I have informed opinions,” you say. “I have a reasonable point of view that I want to share.” OK, but you must be ready to shed your assumptions, no matter what side you are on. NSL demands you come ready for personal and professional transformation or you are wasting your time. Are you ready?
The change process happens through stories. If you learn to really listen to the story of the other, you will be transformed from within. And if you learn what NSL will teach you, we promise you that your story will challenge and change others. But if you came here to argue, to bully, to force your opinion of “reality” down the throats of others you consider less intelligent, then you are only weaponising words for more war and NSL is not where you belong. An NSL summer takes a whole lot of work, personal inner work, and not everybody is ready for that painful process of self-humbling.
Put yourself into some of these scenarios and see how you would react.
One participant loses it and screams abuse at his team mates calling them All Terrorists and walking out, demanding that he be released of any responsibility to further engage.
One participant refuses to accept the legitimacy of the state that you claim as yours, and saying that you have no right to be a nation, not now and not ever.
One participant demands his fellows on the other side condemn the aggression of their side or else, she will quit the program and get on a flight home the next day.
One participant shares the story of an army friend who died in armed combat and pleads for sympathy, all the while choosing to ignore the suffering his unit caused to innocent others, some of whom are in the audience.
One participant acts as an angry non-conformist adolescent almost all the time and uses every chance to ridicule the others and make jokes at their expense.
One participant makes it clear that he only came on the program for his career and that he thinks its a waste of time engaging with the other side. He hardly shows up at training. because he has to network.
One participant is here for the parties that he/she cannot get back home and all they want is fun fun fun for 7 weeks.
A participant declares that if another war broke out, that he would not change his behavior one bit and if that meant going into combat against some of the NSL team, so be it. That’s reality, he says. When the other side asks “Why did he come on NSL? ” he answers, ” To get intelligence.”
One participant starts criticizing the program from Day One and at the end, is shameless in organizing to come back and stay with his host family for free for another 12 months.
Some of these scenarios are made up, some exaggerated versions of what may have occurred on this and our sister programs, and some that may well occur on your summer. First of all, we have to be sure you are not the one who cannot cope, or who is still insecure or still too angry to engage in a conversation with the Enemy. In recent years, that is what it has become- an enemy to enemy encounter. NSL is not demanding you become friends. All it asks is that you tell your story in a way that makes others want to listen and that you listen in a way that makes others want to tell their story. You must come with a story, not an argument.
NSL, despite its critics, is not a normalizing program. We declare up front that we are about power, and that you come here to test whether you, as an emerging young leader, can win any power to influence change- first amongst your fellows, and second, among the Washington community you speak to and work with. If people are arguing with you and dismissing you, then you have failed the challenge. If people think you did not change one bit, then be sure you did not change anyone else. If you go home angry and blaming the other side or the program for tricking you into this “Befriending the enemy” stuff, then you have failed yourself. When the heat was on, you ran away. You left with less power than you came, meaning you cannot be a positive force for change unless you change.
The price of enemies talking to one another is incredibly high, but nothing in comparison to the alternative of continuing to kill and humiliate each other.
We want you to read and re-read this warning, and ask yourself again, are you up for this? Really? If you choose to commit and you discover all that we say here comes true, and more and you walk away in rage, we will remind you- the program can only offer you an opportunity. Its up to you and your courage to make it work. But its dangerous work and we don’t provide you with safety helmets. It won’t kill you but it sure as hell will cure you of your illusions. If you consider that gain that is worth the pain, welcome aboard!