Exploring co-humanity is never a waste of time. In fact, it seems to be the only doorway that will open up a possibility for respectful ideological exchanges. The following are several examples of co-human encounters. This list will get you started. Getting people together is a creative process and the only thing that limits your options is your own imagination.
1. Eating Together
Breaking bread. Sitting down for a meal together. These are probably the oldest forms of human experience. We all need to eat, so why not use that time to connect with other people? Meals have been used to broker peace during times of war, settle personal disputes, reconnect estranged family members, deepen romantic connections, create strong business alliances, fan the embers of love, and much more. Food can be central in our efforts to create co-human experiences. Even when our primary focus is not to gather for a meal, it’s always a good idea to feed people when they come together. More than ninety percent of the interreligious, interfaith, and interideological events I have attended have included food as a major component. Whether it’s a potluck, a three-course meal, coffee and cookies, or something more elaborate, food always brings people together.
2. Doing Good Works Together
Imagine this. You are working at a food drive to help the less fortunate. You look to one side and find someone of a different faith. You look to the other side and find someone of a different ideological persuasion. You realize that none of that matters. You are doing good works side-by-side and understand that helping people is the only reason why all of you have come together.
iACT (Interfaith Action of Central Texas) was founded on the premise of “people of different faiths doing good together.” In addition to their superb dialogue program, the Austin based organization runs a volunteer program where people of all faiths and persuasions come together to fix houses for those who cannot afford to do so on their own. Participants have told me that the connection created between helpers is sustained well after the good deed is done and some have made friends for life.
In Memphis, MIFA (Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association) regularly hosts youth groups of different faiths. They begin their interactions by engaging in some kind of volunteering—for example, by cleaning up the streets in the surrounding neighborhood—and each volunteer is paired up with someone of a different faith. Afterward, they have lunch together, play games, and finally, learn a little bit about each other’s religion. A MIFA employee, who has become a good friend of mine, told me that adding a service component completely changed these events and brought the kids closer together.
At one of my recent workshops, an attendee told us of a communal shoreline cleanup effort that sparked several good friendships between people of different persuasions. Another attendee told us that she was working with political opponents to create a Veterans Day program in her community.
Whatever the project, there is something magical that happens when people focus on helping others.
3. Worshipping and Meditating Together
While interfaith and interreligious events focus on improving relations between people with strong differing beliefs, multifaith spaces have been popping up all over the world, most notably in airports, for a slightly different purpose. The goal of these spaces is to allow people to worship, pray and meditate side-by-side. While each person stays within the realm of his or her own faith tradition, the activity offers an opportunity to observe co-human elements in action, everything from personal peace and quiet to feelings of elation, quiet sobbing, and stone-faced sincerity. Emotions and physical behaviors have the potential to trigger co-human resonance in others who share the space and generate a sense of harmony.
4. Learning Together
Elementary schools, high schools, and college campuses offer unique opportunities to interact with people of all faiths and persuasions, even more so than workplaces. On average, intermingling is more active when kids are younger and becomes more difficult as the ideological persona grows stronger and beliefs solidify.
Organizations such as Interfaith Youth Core and Convergence on Campus have done a great job of facilitating relationships between students, but more can be done so that people don’t automatically segregate into ideological camps when they enter higher learning environments.
For the average adult, attending seminars, workshops, and other forms of adult education can create interesting connections between people who wouldn’t normally socialize but have similar interests.
As a veteran workshop and seminar facilitator, I can tell you that the connections made in a welcoming learning environment are often more important than the material being presented.
5. Engaging in Small Talk
Ordinary conversations can be used to deepen co-human connections. For that to happen, the exchanges simply need to be empathetic and revolve around features that we all share as human beings, including lifecycle, health, emotions, kids, work, housing situation, commuting, weather, feelings, entertainment, food, travel, pets, hobbies, family history… or something similar.
I know that I am suggesting small talk and that I shouldn’t have to mention it, but, in our age of ideological overemphasizing, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of everyday discussions that people used to take for granted.
6. Exploring Human Interconnectedness
One way to underline interconnectedness is to take manmade items and wonder how many people it took to create them. Objects of focus can be anything, a pen, table, sandwich, computer, book, or something else. The idea is to discuss every part of the construction, from the extraction or cultivation of the building materials to the manufacturing and distribution process. In my house, we sometimes play this game at the dinner table and it is astounding to realize how many people have come together to make it possible for us to have a meal. From a single man-made object, we can truly realize that we are never alone and that all human beings are bound together, indebted to their natural environment.
7. Creating Together
Art offers a unique way to connect with the creative aspect of being human. From flash orchestras for peace (which is a real thing) to pottery and painting, artistic experiences plug into an important element. All kids are creative until the day that some of them are told that they are artists and others are told they are no good. For those who are not artists, the need for creativity is still there. If we give rise to creativeness in a safe environment and invite people from a variety of backgrounds to join us, the outcome can be magical.
8. Reading About Others
Not everyone has a chance to interact with diverse groups of people. In some cases, the limitations are geographical, other times people don’t have the time.
It may not be the same as meeting people in person, but reading memoirs and biographies with an emphasis on co-humanity can create a special kind of bond. The same can be said about blogs that focus on everyday life and are not heavy on ideology. The information that is gathered through those means can be coupled with imagination and used as a tool for empathy.
9. Exercising Together
In his book, The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner presents findings about health and longevity from communities around the world. One of the insights that he offers is that communal exercising, such as walking or running in groups where the physical exercise is supplemented with personal interactions, has more positive impacts on health than merely exercising alone. We can use that information to our benefit and facilitate co-human experiences through walking, running, yoga, tai chi, cross-fit or other means, using them as meeting places and excuses for healthy co-human activities. Those who are not in a position to start such groups can achieve similar outcomes by joining their local YMCA.
10. Playing Games
“Man is man’s joy” is a proverb from the Poetic Edda that I heard repeated over and over again during my childhood in Iceland. Human beings seek each other’s company. Playing games is probably the oldest pastime in our collective history. From physically active sports to card games and strategy, there is great variety in this field of human endeavor. For the purposes of engaging co-humanity, age-appropriate and mostly good-natured games need to be chosen, since we don’t want to feed the competitive spirit too much and create a new type of divide. The overarching intention is to connect one human persona with another.
Again, this may sound simplistic to some, but if people with differing worldviews can play games and laugh a little in each other’s company that opens the door for other and more meaningful interactions. Trust is built slowly. Sometimes the first step is to see a glimpse of shared humanity.
Just the Beginning
The above examples only scratch the surface of what can be done in the name of co-human experiences. Use your creativity to come up with more ideas.
For more ideas, read Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides
Ideas that promote social harmony and bridge-building across divides.
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