July Practice: Engage in One Another's Differences

Silhouette of people talking

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr http://fetz.us/2u2MaRV

I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in one another’s differences in a way that is redemptive, full of hope and possibility. —bell hooks

Our fears, fueled by stories that—advertently or inadvertently—demonize people based on religion, culture, national origin, or other differences, can easily dominate our attention. At the same time, there are redemptive stories that inspire hope and possibility for reaching across differences and working together for a higher good.

How do we traverse that uncertain terrain of difference? More and more people and organizations are creating ways to help navigate these divides and find some common ground. Here is just a sampling:

  • Better Angels is a grassroots initiative to facilitate messy but healing conversations across political divides. “We found that we are less different from one another, and less hostile to one another, than the pundits in the media typically say we are,” this from a joint public statement by participants in a Better Angels gathering.
  • Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) operates under the motto of “It won’t stop until we talk.” Working to foster reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians who are separated by how they see and interpret their shared history, leaders of this joint Israeli-Palestinian nonprofit say "by listening deeply to one another's personal stories, rather than arguing over political views...participants slowly begin to connect and see each other as people first, rather than enemies.” 
  • Better Together, an Interfaith Youth Core campaign, is a national student network for interfaith action. Through Better Together, students are making an impact on social issues of their choosing while building sustainable relationships across lines of religious and non-religious difference on campus.
  • On Being’s Civil Conversations Project (CCP) is “a conversation-based, virtues-based resource towards hospitable, trustworthy relationship with and across difference.” Its seven-page “Better Conversations: A Starter Guide,” is free to download on their website. (Better Angels was featured as part of On Being's CCP.)

This month, we invite you to create safe spaces (or join existing ones) where "generous listening" (see the Better Conversations Starter Guide) helps you bridge difference. We’ve found that when we’re willing to drop our masks, be open and vulnerable (when it is safe to do so) are often the times we connect most deeply with one another.

What organizations or individuals do you know of that model ways to “engage in differences”? We would love to add to this list!