While I was writing this week’s newsletter, I realized that the forces of division had not taken a summer break this year. While I was entertaining my kids during our eighth consecutive daddy-summer-camp, the steady drumbeat of anger, fear, and contempt in public discourse seemed to grow louder—if that’s even possible.
Everyone Thinks They Are On the Right Side of History
As emotions have gotten hotter, everyone seems to assume that they are on the right side of history, that their ideological position is the only one that is correct and that everyone else is mistaken. People stand on the opposite sides of widening chasms in both religion and politics and shout: “They started it! They are wrong!”
Who Will Listen to the Bridge Builders?
In this type of atmosphere, people who suggest that we should build bridges and work towards harmony are often branded as delusional. “Peace is not in sight,” they say. “You have to fight for your right. Stay angry and outraged!”
It's a sad fact that peacemakers have historically been laughed at, scorned and shouted down. Fortunately for us, history is on the side of those who long for a state of civil discourse. Peace has prevailed more often than not… but it hasn’t come out of nowhere. Peace is usually the result of tireless work by those who are committed to it.
Humans are tribal beings. According to the social sciences, we have the ability to bond with approximately one to two hundred people. However, because of increased population and the reach of social media, the concept of the tribe has expanded.
Here is a partial list of different kinds of tribes that exist in our society in no particular order.
What do you do when someone spouts anger at you, drenches you in hate or shows utter contempt for everything you stand for? The instinctive response is to fight back, to meet fire with fire. But what is the spiritual response to the same situation? Martin Luther King Jr. echoed the Nazarene when he said: "Hate can never drive out hate, only love can do that."
Meeting hate with hate is natural but it leads to an escalation that is impossible to stop. Hate breeds hate breeds hate breeds hate.
Good People Giving Into Instinct
In the past few years, I have seen good people give into the instinct of anger over and over again. It’s a fine line that is easy to cross. Yes, it is true that resisting hateful, bigoted rhetoric is important, but once resistance turns into name-calling, once offense turns into spiteful indignation, once the outrage becomes the focal point rather than a temporary feeling, then the line between a loving and respectful response and an instinctive hateful response has been crossed.
I’ve seen good people, loving people, altruistic people cross this line. Heck, I’ve crossed the line in my mind more than once in the past couple of years—but I’ve refused to act on it publicly.
“They started it,” some may respond. That may be true. But a tit for tat reaction will only escalate tensions. If we want to deescalate the situation, a better response is needed.
Even though we play different instruments and have different character traits, the human orchestra can create a harmonious melody if we do the following.
1. Stop the Noise
The first step towards a harmonious melody is to stop the noise. If a few people are incessantly banging their drums, scratching their strings, yammering loudly, or playing their own fortissimo tunes without regards to their surroundings, the best intentions of the people around them will not matter.
In the same way, for the human orchestra to generate a melody, we must reduce violent actions and bombastic rhetoric. When things quiet down, there is a potential for something better to emerge.
2. Accept All Instruments
An orchestra wouldn’t be able to create a variety of melodies if everyone played either the fiddle or the trumpet. Different instruments are needed to contrast and complement each other. The human race, with all its different cultures, theologies and ideologies, has potential to do the same.
The time, when diversity was a mere ideology, has long passed. In the modern era, diversity is a reality. People of all colors, faiths, and creeds are living side-by-side in societies all across the world—nowhere more so than here in the USA.
People who rail against diversity as an ideology are behind the times. They have not yet accepted the reality of what has happened. Some are trying to turn back the tide, but the tide will not turn. Diversity is here to stay.
The Only Question Is...
The only question we are faced with is whether or not we are going to make this new reality work for all of us. In some areas of the world, communities have adapted, but others are still struggling.
If people have been brought up to believe that diversity is an ideology, the resistance is understandable. They believe that they are preserving their way of life by railing against the changes. “Why can’t it be like it’s always been?” they ask.
In an age of pluralism and diversity, this is difficult to say, but, by my estimates, every celebration of diversity creates subtle divisions. Here is my thinking. When I acknowledge that you come from a different culture, a different background, and a different race and we celebrate that then divisions remain. Every time I see you I am reminded of how different we are.
We could do it differently. We could honor each other’s culture, background, and race, but then move on to explore and celebrate similarities. Afterwards, parallels would remain. Every time we’d see each other, we’d be reminded of our likenesses.
What Color Are the Apples?
For example, when you saw the picture that accompanies this column, what did you notice first, the fact that all the fruits were apples or that one apple was in color and the others were grey?
How many times have you been having a conversation about your values or beliefs—political, theological, spiritual, nutritional—and been met with absolute statements? People say things like: “The truth of the matter is that…” or “what you don’t know is that…” or “this is that way…”
Telling people how things are, what the truth is, and what they don’t know, in relation to beliefs and values is extremely unhelpful in a two-sided dialogue.
The fix is simple, yet powerful. All you have to do is qualify statements with the words “what I believe” or “what we believe” or “my tradition says” and so on. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a world of difference. Even when you believe that what you are saying is the absolute truth, you are not betraying your belief by stating that, in fact, it is a belief. Rather, you are opening yourself up to dialogue.
If you tell me what you believe, then I can respond by telling you what I believe. But if you tell me how things are, then the probability of the dialogue turning into an argument increases.
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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