Lessons from (the play) Oslo

Dear friends,

I hope to leave you with some thoughts today after this blog post. I’ll give a few updates, and then keep on with what I was able to experience last night. Firstly, I am currently working in this bookstore called Waterstones, which is a bookstore basically right across the street from UCL. I took this morning slow, sleeping in after a late night and spending the morning getting some administrative things done before I could go out and do what I wanted for the day.

As much fun as I have been having with getting adjusted to London and experiencing life as a Londoner, it has been a tough ordeal getting used to the commute that I have from my apartment to campus. My place a solid three miles west of UCL, and it takes me 30 minutes to bike there if I don’t get lost on my way. I guess I’m learning how to pack for the entire day so I don’t get bogged down with travel time, but ideally I would be a little closer to campus so I can have an easier time with involving myself in on-campus extra curricular activities. We’ll see what happens with housing, but I do have some applications in to a few places that are closer to campus. But if I do stick with where I am currently living, I’m sure I will get used to the commute that is to follow!

More importantly though is what I was able to experience last night. A new friend who I met while at enrolment (yes, it’s spelled with one ‘l’) and I were lucky enough to get tickets on yesterday morning for a play last night, called “Oslo”. The seats were literally in the very back and highest spot in the audience, but they were half price, so who can beat that kind of deal?? We had to sort of lean over a railing to watch the show, so my back was a little cramped by the end of the 2 hours and fifty minutes of the play, but I would still say that this show was completely worth seeing.

What I’m writing about is going to be written sans any background investigation into this show, as I saw the show not knowing anything of what it was about, and I want to submit my thoughts to all of you having not been biased by any other information that I could have gathered from outside the show itself.

“Oslo” opened up with a scene between a famous sociologist and his wife, a prominent figure in Norway for international relations. They’re discussing the theories behind negotiation: how this task has been traditionally accomplished and how this sociologist’s new theory behind negotiation can function better that the traditional way. It seems as though this duo is a big “power couple” in international relations, and they’re seeking to use this status for the common good of the world. I thought it odd for this play to be set in Norway, because in my mind, Norway is a bit out of the way, a country so far north that it could happily avoid what’s going on in the rest of the world and carry on an independent and neutral pathway in life. Well, this is certainly what Norway seemed to be portrayed as, and this couple sought to use this neutrality for the better.

The current hot topic of the day, it seemed, was the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis in the state of Israel. I wasn’t sure if the Palestinians quite yet had their own recognized territory (this is in the 1980s), but from this play, it seemed as though Palestinians were occupying the Gaza Strip and other parts of Israel. This power couple wanted, under the nose of the United States and other foreign powers, to conduct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, for this would be one of the most pivotal negotiations in history and would end forty years’ worth of bloodshed between these two peoples. Apparently, this idea was unheard of, as there was a traditional way to carry out peace negotiations, and the U.S. usually had to have their hand in whatever went on (as they normally have to do so in any sort of foreign affairs). As an aside, I thought this show was a great precursor to being educated without a U.S.-centric point of view. As much as I love my home country, I love this opportunity to learn from a completely different point of view!

As soon as I learned of the subject of this show, I was a little worried, as I wasn’t very informed about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (thanks to my high school self, who was averse to any sort of topic containing the word “history”). Obviously my philosophy on history and the humanities has changed since high school! However, despite my being uninformed, I was surprised at how easy it was to understand most of the jokes (there were many) that were uttered in this play, as well as the topics that were portrayed.

Aside from the humor, the play did a wonderful job in describing the true abilities one must have to keep with or break certain sets of rules laid out in international relations. Sometimes, to make a true advancement on a stale topic that just won’t seem to change (peace accords were attempted multiple times between these two peoples in the past), one must take great risks and push or bend the rules of the game. After all, rules were formed by humans and sometimes they contain imperfections that we must be open to changing. However, this play leaves me asking, “How does one know when to break the rules and when to play by them?” “How far can I push without being seen as too disrespectful and out of line so much that I lose credibility?”

Especially in the field of international relations, or even global health, I thing we’re going to have to push the norm to start getting resources to those who don’t have them. This is exactly why I chose to study philosophy, so I would be able to take a set of rules, or a system, and investigate what fundamentally governs that set of rules. By seeing what lies underneath as motivation, I might be able to use that motivation to form a new set of protocols that better fit certain situations at hand. By acknowledging inherent motivation behind rules, and still following that motivation but while creating new rules that better fit a situation, I believe I could really meet governing powers with thoughts that aren’t easily contested or denied.

I think that Oslo taught me that breaking protocol, when sometimes risky, can be hugely beneficial. This act, when carried out for these specific peace agreements, had its moments of contention, but in the end created friendships and relationships that moved these two peoples forward, closer to peace. Another part of the show that intrigued me was how the negotiators (representatives from both Israelis and Palestinians) discussed business matters and then friendly matters. The director of the play laid this out so that the respective topics were discussed in separate rooms, and when in the “friendly matters” room, I could see that no matter the political struggles of any country or territory, humans still have families and friends, those relationships which we (happily) cannot avoid. With that statement, I want to leave you with a question. If you have ever been in any sort of rue or engagement with another party, have you stopped to think about who they really are, as another human? They have family and loved ones. They have their own set of struggles. They, too, have to learn how to function as a human, be it figuring out what to eat, who to talk to, and what their purpose is in life. If we stop to realize how human our adversaries are, we might stop thinking of them as adversaries and merely as other humans with whom we can connect.

Now, I didn’t leave too much about Oslo, so maybe you can go see it for yourself if it pops up near you! đŸ™‚ Having now written this post, I think I’m going to go do my own research into Israel and Palestine so I am more comfortable with discussing this area of the globe.

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the weekend.

~Jeffrey

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