How can we help those who are demonstrating and dying on the streets?
I think that what we are already doing — paying rapt attention — is the most powerful thing Americans can do to empower Iran’s popular uprising. If the USA is preceived to be attempting to interfere, we empower repression. If we become a factor in the process, we muddy the waters. But if we simply pay attention, with open hearts and minds, and if we let ourselves be affected by what we see, and if we speak publicly about our human and moral perceptions, in public forums that Iranians can access, we help. It will be obvious that we are paying attention, that we are emotionally involved in witnessing their cultural confrontation, that we are moved and inspired by their courage, dignity, and restraint, that we are learning from their examples.
Mutual awareness involves taking new perspectives. That tends to serve growth into more nuanced structures of awareness. In this moment, the world’s simple witnessing awareness is making a subtle, but fundamental and benignly transformative difference. We are helping by sympathetically identifying with their symbolic martyr, Neda, her family, and her nation.
When the whole world is watching, heroes are seen, and thus empowered. (At least their sacrifice does not go unnoticed.) The world’s rapt attention makese a difference. The observed is changed by the presence of the observer. This intersubjective connection, this imperfect empathic urge unites us with Iranians in a larger “we-space.”
It is a subtle difference, and it doesn’t necessarily change behavior, except as new understandings naturally evoke new behavioral choices. But this simple shift might prove to be the “iota” of difference, the “straw” that tips the balance scales (which may tip only over months or years) in favor of reform and progress in Iran.