As Dorothea learns to her dismay, other people do not necessarily crave the treatment we expect them to appreciate. To thrive in sustained intimacy requires learning to provide not what we think someone else wants, or should want, but what actually makes him or her happy.
This struggle to see others is the moral drama of Middlemarch, and of life. Eliot never stops resisting the autocracy of the self; what Copernicus was to geocentricity, she is to egocentricity. The most striking example of this resistance appears not in her books but in a letter, quoted by Mead, that Eliot wrote to a bereaved friend. “I try to delight in the sunshine that will be when I shall never see it any more. And I think it is possible for this sort of impersonal life to attain great intensity,—possible for us to gain much more independence, than is usually believed, of the small bundle of acts that make our own personality.”
Reading that passage is like watching Eliot drift upward to become the narrator of Middlemarch: omniscient, compassionate, seeing life more clearly for the distance but sharing not one iota less in its delights. From a narrator, we take such a position for granted. From a person, it’s a startlingly radical separation.
But were they neutral? Are they? Can they be?
My answer is: No, they couldn’t.
Not because they were dishonest. Not because they consciously served one side. Certainly not. Perish the thought!
But for a much deeper reason. They were brought up on the narrative of one side. From childhood on, they have internalized the history and the terminology of one side (ours). They couldn’t even imagine that the other side has a different narrative, with a different terminology.
In this article, Uri Avnery is asking whether the American intermediaries involved in trying to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians in recent decades have been neutral. More than that, whether they can be.
Depending on one’s own attitudes towards this conflict, his answers will either seem offensive or obvious. That’s just another example of the broader principle he’s pointing to. We all have our own set of narratives which makes true objectivity almost impossible. Not only in relation to large-scale vexed issues like this, but in every corner of our lives.
Overcoming them is exceptionally difficult, even after we become conscious of their existence and wish to make the change. Only empathy, a willingness to listen to someone else’s narrative and try to see things through their eyes offers us any chance at all.