My fellow Americans,
I think it is time we talked. Not argued, but talked, you know, like adults do when they attempt to resolve their differences. Before we do, though, I believe that we need to make some adjustments to our approach. To assist with that process, allow me reference three ideas we use here at Harmony Interfaith Initiative, each of them addressing major points in regards to dialogue and reconciliation.
The Human Persona and The Ideological Persona
Padraig O’Malley, who was a facilitator during the Northern Ireland peace process, made the case that each human being has two personas, the ideological persona and the human persona. He pointed out that the only way to dehumanize the other is to see him or her only in terms of ideology and forget their humanity.
Think about that for a moment. Whenever we use an ideological label to describe a person, we fall into the trap of dehumanizing. It’s a great way to polarize, but a lousy way to live and can only lead to further divisions and hostilities.
Based on O’Malley’s concept, the first step towards dialogue is to remember that we are human and that the person on the other side of the discussion is also human, not merely a Christian or a Muslim, a conservative or a liberal, a snowflake or a gun rights activist, a climate warrior or a climate denier. Those are ideological stances people have taken, not something they are born with.
Being on the "Right Side"
Another concept we work with is called the attraction-repulsion principle. It explains how a good person can turn on a dime, how attraction to one thing can automatically prompt repulsion for its opposite, how well-meaning people who are attracted to what they perceive as good can, sometimes inadvertently, start hating the opposite of what they so love. It is an oxymoron, for sure, but a valid principle.
If you are completely convinced that you are on the “right side” of an argument, that you are defending something good, true, beautiful, and treasured, then you are in danger of starting to hate the opposite view. The stronger the attraction to the worldview, the stronger the repulsion becomes.
Unfortunately, when people argue, both sides think they are on the “right side,” and that leads to increased hostilities. Therefore, the second step is to remember that our attraction to one worldview can create a strong repulsion of opposing worldviews. I am not saying that some worldviews don’t deserve dislike, but I am saying that we need to approach the matter with humility rather than blind certainty.
Lessons from Interfaith Dialogue
Finally, we need to use some of the lessons learned by interfaith activists and have what I call interpolitical discussions. Here are some of the principles created by Scarboro Missions for the purpose of amiable dialogue:
Spiritual Leaders Have Urged Us to Do What is Hard
Getting angry is easy. Feeling justified about that anger feels great. Feeling like you belong to a group because you are all angry and upset about the same thing is a strong bonding experience. Looking down your nose at people and feeling superior, well, it can feel like you are on top of the world. I get it. I’ve done it. I still fall into the trap. And yet, all the great teachers from the world’s religions have urged us to do the opposite, to do what is hard.
Jesus the Christ of Nazareth said:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Turn the other cheek. That is difficult to do, especially if you are landing punch after punch on your Twitter feed.
The Buddha said:
“For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law.”
It can feel good to hate, at least, temporarily, but hate rarely results in a good outcome. If we can’t find love in our hearts, we are in big trouble.
The 20th Century non-violent visionary and Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi said:
“It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”
Yes, if the only people you are friendly with are the ones who are in your social circle, who share your beliefs, who fit into your tribe, then you are doing the easy stuff.
And, in poetic form, the Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and philosopher Ibn al-Arabi said:
“My heart has become capable of every form:
It is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
And a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba,
And the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur’an
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take,
That is my religion and my faith.”
Those who follow the religion of love, no matter their outward label, are the potential peacemakers.
Giving into our anger, frustration, and fear is the human thing to do. But, as the masters have taught us, we are capable of more than that. It’s hard work, but we can rise above hatred.
Take Small Steps
During our many hikes together, my grandmother taught me to take small steps. “We can walk all day if we take small steps,” she used to say. The same is true for us. We can take small steps, start having dialogues, make ripples, and eventually… eventually, it may lead to something better.
So ask yourself:
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Bridge Building and Social Harmony
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We envision a world where people have access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge building across divides. To us, interfaith means the continual improvement of interrelations between people who strongly believe in different worldviews.
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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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