Straight talk in tumultuous times

Dear Tri-Faith Community,

The current crisis in the holy land of the Abrahamic faiths is unfolding against the backdrop of historical, cultural, spiritual, and existential conflict. The pattern is painful. There is perhaps no more heated political issue in our American landscape for which we seek common ground among the Tri-Faith Initiative partners.

Our shared religious and moral values require an embrace of peace and justice, especially when our views and perspectives differ. The alternative is oppression and conflict without end. As long as the violence continues, we will continue to see a rise in global Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Injustices and inequalities feed this conflict. The resulting polarization harms our personal relationships, sparks violence motivated by racial or religious prejudice, and even undermines our democracy. We must disrupt the pattern.

As individuals, we come to our Tri-Faith relationships with different narratives and experiences, both personal and communal. This moment tests our commitment to see, hear, and affirm the other, especially as we disagree.

Some organizations have issued statements about the current violence, which began in Jerusalem and has now spread to all parts of Israel and Palestine. These public statements and demonstrations are caught in the “either/or” binary —either Palestine or Israel. The statements often suggest one must be right and the other wrong. Too many leaders default to looking at decisions as either-or, right or wrong, good or bad, win or lose.

At Tri-Faith, we’re asking: Do public statements representing entire institutions and communities make us feel safer, especially in disruptive and tumultuous times?

As the Executive Director of Tri-Faith, I’ve been asked by a number of people if Tri-Faith will issue a public statement. I own my privilege to step back from this conflict involving life and death for so many people, and I accept my responsibility to use my privilege to work toward peace.

I am grappling with the following:

  • What would be the objective of a public statement from Tri-Faith?
  • Who would be our intended audience
  • What is it that we—together—want to say? And who speaks on “our” behalf?
  • Are we trying to influence or send a signal to specific public officials or community partners?
  • How would we want to influence actions and outcomes?
  • Is there a more effective response than a public statement?

Meaningful interfaith work relies on the understanding that we have something to teach each other, and something to learn from the religious “other.” Are we open to the possibility of learning from and with one another on this complex topic? Do we have the skills, historical context, and willingness to invite a civil conversation — and potentially not end the experience with a unified statement?

What if, rather than grasping at certainty, we cultivate the capacity to see and know more ­— to deepen, widen, and lengthen our perspectives? According to Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, “Deepening depends on a willingness to challenge a blind spot, deeply held assumption, and fixed belief. Widening means taking into account more perspectives ­— and stakeholders — in order to address any given problem from multiple vantage points. Lengthening requires focusing on not just the immediate consequences of a decision but also its likely impact over time. What if we sought this path together?

Schwartz suggests teams and individuals can think deeply about complex problems by cultivating a new practice, including these three techniques:

  1. Begin by asking: “What am I not seeing here?” and “What else might be true?”
  2. Pay close attention to how you’re feeling. Embracing complexity is not just a cognitive challenge, but also an emotional one. In part, it’s about learning to manage negative emotions ­— anger and fear above all.
  3. Managing complexity requires courage ­— the willingness to name privilege and power, sit in the discomfort of uncertainty in an effort to experiment with new ways to hear and understand the “other side.”

Trust can be built with exposure to and experience with those who are different from you. In Steven Covey’s book, Speed of Trust, a core tenant of building trusting relationships is straight talk. I have been invited into some really beautiful, difficult “straight talk” conversations this week. I spoke with Tri-Faith board members, clergy, staff, and community leaders, as well as friends and family, and listened to their pain. I spoke with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends, and we shared heartache. I received emails, comments, and posts that I supported, and others that made me cringe.

The tapestry of opinions left me wondering: Who gets to speak on behalf of such a diverse neighborhood? Together we must be bridge builders working to foster constructive dialogue, understanding, and trust across group lines. Our model to bridge difference is more urgent than ever when so many forces are pulling us apart.

The power of positive contact between members of our Tri-Faith communities can have ripple effects: Research suggests that as we get to know each other, we form more positive attitudes toward the other’s community.

The goal is not to reach a consensus on painful issues, but rather to commit to cultivating a new practice in thinking about this complex problem. I invite you to have a “straight talk” conversation this week, with this intention: To make everyone involved feel valued and respected, making space for everyone to express themselves and sincerely listen to others.

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