Following our very successful Interfaith Celebration of Kindness February 15, 2005, the Kindness Campaign is launching a series of Interfaith Dialogue Dinners in the community. The dialogue dinners provide an opportunity for people to explore together similarities and differences in their religious and spiritual beliefs. Groups of 6-8 people will meet with trained facilitators for a series of three dinners in search of common ground. The purpose of the dialogue groups is not to change anybody’s religious or spiritual beliefs but provide a place where people can break down stereotypes, explore deeper connections, and look for common themes such as kindness that run through their collective beliefs. The groups are organized to maximize the diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs among those who signed up to participate. Some of the groups will begin during March 2005 and the rest during April 2005.
The conflict of religious and spiritual ideologies is all about being right. The quest for being right is at the heart of all violence. Throughout recorded history more wars have been fought over differences in religious beliefs than all the other causes combined. For almost all of our recorded history, we have used violence and destruction to try to gain and maintain our belief that we are right.
It is now abundantly clear that the insecurity that lurks behind the desire to impose our rightness on another person, group, race, religious group or nation cannot be healed by the use of power. The persons or groups in power only feel more insecure and thus must constantly defend their gains and fear the loss of power.
We must find better, more peaceful ways to manage these urges to use power without resorting to violence. The principles and practices set forth in our constitution give us hope of finding better ways, democratic ways, to resolve disputes and conflicts through dialogue and the rule of law. It is far from perfect, but our democratic tradition does give us hope for a better world. This better world will not be without conflict, but one where peaceful dialogue replaces war and violence as a method of resolving conflicts.
In a recent book, John Murray wrote the following, “A republic is made up of people locked in civil argument. And the point of the argument is neither to win nor to end the diversity of opinion and power. Peace means keeping the argument going, ad infinitum.”In this context, peace is defined as Sam Keen put it, “…fierce men, women and nations struggling together to define their boundaries and enhance self-respect with love and politics as a playing field. I see rivals facing each other not as incarnations of evil, but as worthy opponents.”Albert Camus, one of the most unsentimental minds of our century once wrote, “It would be completely Utopian to wish that men should no longer kill each other … Skeptical though we are (and as I am), realism forces us to this Utopian alternative. When our Utopia has become part of history … men will find themselves unable to conceive of reality without it. For History is simply man’s desperate attempt to give body to his most clairvoyant dreams.”Arnold Mindell, a Jungian psychologist, said “If you cannot dreamt, it cannot happen. If you dare to dream it, it is already happening.” If you agree with the brief vision of a better, more peaceful world, then we can begin today to create it. In addition to a common vision, we need common skills that we can use to achieve our goals and realize our dreams. One of the most important skills is the skill of dialogue.Werner Heisenberg, one of the greatest minds of our century argued that, “Science is rooted in conversations. The cooperation of different people may culminate in scientific results of the utmost importance” He recalled that his dialogues with Pauli, Einstein and Bohr led directly to the theories that literally reshaped our understanding of the physical world.Another physicist, David Bohm, set about developing the theory and practice of dialogue. Dialogue is actually a very old idea revered by the ancient Greeks and practiced by many primitive societies such as the American Indians. Bohm argued that the purpose of science is not the accumulation of knowledge, but rather the creation of mental maps that guide and shape our perception and action. These mental maps he found are best created by groups who have learned the skill of dialogue.
There are two primary forms of conversation: dialogue and discussion, and they are not the same. Discussion has the same root as the word percussion and concussion. It suggests something like a tennis match where opponents are hitting the ball back and forth. The purpose of a discussion is to have one’s views, beliefs or values accepted by the other person of group as the “right one’s”. In a discussion, you might accept part of another person’s view in order to strengthen your own view, but your basic goal is to have your point of view prevail. The emphasis on winning or being right often leads people to stretch the truth and/or disregard certain facts.In a dialogue, the goal is different. The word “dialogue” comes from the Greek word “dialogos” which means “meaning”. Bohm suggests that the purpose of dialogue is to access the larger pool of common meaning, which could not be accessed individually. In a dialogue, people are participating in the discovery of this pool of common meaning. Also in dialogue, people become more aware of their assumptions, beliefs and values that shape their actions. They also become more aware of events from their past that have shaped their assumptions, beliefs and values.Bohm states that there are three basic conditions necessary for dialogue to occur: 1. All participants must be willing to “suspend” their assumptions and reveal them to others as well as opening them to examination. 2. All participants must be willing to regard each other as equals or as colleagues. 3, In a group, there has to be a facilitator who keeps the dialogue process moving. Bohm says that once an individual digs in his or her heels’ and decides “this is the way it is” the flow of dialogue stops. In a dialogue, different assumptions, values and beliefs are presented as a means to discover a new idea or better understand the various assumptions, values and beliefs presented. Discussion is necessary if a group is trying to reach some agreement on a course of action to be taken. Dialogue does not seek to promote agreement but seeks to uncover new possible courses of action.If you are interested in participating in future dialogue dinners about religious beliefs, please contact us firstname.lastname@example.org or call 252-3054. We also have plans to expand these dialogue groups in to others topics such as race, sexual orientation, politics and socio-e conomic issues.