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A candle is burning as I write, its flickering dancing flame creates shadows; light and shadows dance together, inseparable in a contrasting, blending unity. We forget this at our peril when we most need understanding in our personal relationships and in our conflicts.

Too often we claim the light for ourselves, identifying with the good, with the light of our reason, or of our hearts and missing the inevitable shadows, where others are cast with masks that we create for them. They become unknown and unknowable to us, unless we put this aside in some way to know them as they are to themselves and as we are to them. This involves an effort, we are not always prepared to make, and if we are understood negatively by them, pain, discomfort, sadness, panic, rage, terror even.

And terror, which has been much in the news and social media over the last fortnight, is something felt and not always obvious to the outside eye. People just seem often to be going about their daily lives, as I observed in Paris last week. It was only as I got to know individuals that their particular experiences and understandings of what had happened revealed a sense of threat to their safety, an anxiety of what is to come and a sense of being dislodged from their way of life, by the need to be secure.

All that is core to being human and in the world is magnified by the Paris atrocity and magnified it to the point of war. What has struck me about much of the commentary and political responses is how much these responses say everything about how we construct our world. Little is said about how ISIS might understand their world and our world; what they might be trying to achieve; how we might be responding to them in ways that they wish us to respond. One exception was

Scott Atram’s piece in The Guardian, where he used their manifesto to understand them in order to combat them. And in combat situations, knowing they your enemy is as important as knowing thyself if we are to find ways forward. In fact we cannot really know ourselves without knowing our enemy; only in this process do we find the limits of our light, the darkness of our shadow, the face of our terror and a fellow human being with whom we are moving in conflict.

When the forces concerned are global, binary for the actors involved and understood as a matter of survival of us or them, then an understanding that is mutual, an understanding that allows for peace and a peace that is long lasting, is an understanding that is difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve. In more personal conflicts between couples, within families, where there is attachment, good will on all sides then the acceptance of different realities, different understandings of the good allows for dialogue about what we have in common, where we are different and how we might all get along better. Where good will is lacking in couples and families then we are lucky to live in a society where it is possible to move and find people we can depend on, people who will recognise us, but this is unlikely to happen if we cannot see the limits of our light and the shadow it casts, to look beyond and to meet others as they are, to understand them so we can be friends, lovers, professionals, in fact whatever role we meet them in.

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