Although most people have their own ideas about what the words interfaith and community mean, in broad terms, interfaith relationships stand on an idealized notion that people who believe in similar ideals desire to interact harmoniously. That is, whether they proclaim themselves as mystical, metaphysical, spiritual or religious persons, they would interact amicably in order to reach a common goal. Through these interactions, they would learn about each other and increase understanding of each tradition’s practices.
Regardless of the definition of interfaith that you accept, anybody can learn a great deal from being involved in such a community. The level of education increases when it is a well-functioning interfaith group. Here are a few important things I have learned.
Respect and Consideration
- Having respect for a person is different from treating others respectfully.
- Respect has nothing to do with fear or anger. Many people think that they must be feared before they will be given respect. Nothing could be less true.
- As we interact, respect for an individual grows. Most commonly, it is earned through observation of someone’s appropriate actions or superior character.
- While it is true that respect is earned, nothing good happens unless we treat each other with respect. In other words, we must begin our interactions with consideration and politeness. No positive communication can happen without courteous and civil interactions.
- Clearly insults don’t move a group (or two people) towards a goal of empathy and friendship. After all, how can we build positive associations if we demean an individual? Whether we have just met or have known each other for years, rude behavior separates us from developing a friendly relationship. It prevents us from getting to know each other and it stops us from understanding each other.
- The conversation needs to begin with the fundamental attitude that everyone has a valid point, even those we judge as being on the wrong side. Consequently, if everyone’s view is treated as valid, even if it is a dissenting opinion, people will be more levelheaded and more willing to listen.
In this time of bipartisan polarization, we have forgotten that we learn more when we speak our personal truths and listen to the other individual’s truths. Of course, that means we have to work to discover our own truths. Sure, it is easier to parrot someone else’s opinion — but that’s another topic. Whether we are Republicans, Democrats or Independents, we need to remember that we are all in this together. We have to learn to listen to each other. How bad does it have to get before we start to do that?