A Simple Tweak to Interfaith Dialogue

A Simple Tweak to Interfaith Dialogue February 26, 2018

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 respond to you by saying things like: “The truth of the matter is that…” or “what you don’t know is that…” or “this is that way…”

The problem is that 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 like “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 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.

Simple is Not Always Easy

Naturally, this approach is only for those who want to engage in a respectful two-sided dialogue, not for people who want spurt monologues at each other.

However, don’t let the simplicity of it fool you. Even with the best of intentions, this approach can be hard to maintain.

I recall one teacher who taught at my interfaith seminary. He was very good about telling us what this tradition or that tradition believed, but sometimes, when he expressed his own beliefs, he would put them forth in absolutes and not qualify them as his own. He didn’t see his belief system, which was outside of the realm of traditional beliefs, to be a system of beliefs, but rather he saw it as the truth.

Know Your Beliefs

This approach, of qualifying statements about beliefs and values with words such as “I believe” or “my tradition says,” increases personal awareness. Making an internal distinction between beliefs and empirical facts is an exercise that everyone can benefit from. When you point out the difference in conversation by making it clear that you know what you believe, you will open the door for others to acknowledge their own beliefs and that decreases tension.

Don’t take my word for it. Try this tweak the next time you engage in an interfaith or interideological dialogue and find out for yourself.

Gudjon Bergmann
Interfaith Minister, Author, and Speaker

Founder of Harmony Interfaith Initiative

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Picture: Pexels.com CC0 License

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