I recently attended a lunch that was designed as kind of an interfaith sharing/Q&A type of event. Basically, the Mormon and the Muslims clubs on campus have a history of working together, and we wanted to take a rare opportunity to sit down and ask questions to people whom we have come to admire and would like to understand better. About thirty people showed up.
On the surface, the thing that first brought the Mormons and the Muslims together was probably drinking… or should I say the lack thereof. The social scene at HBS can revolve a lot around drinking, so it’s no surprise that as both of our religions teach abstinence from alcohol, finding other non-drinkers would be a natural point of bonding. We teetotalers have to stick together after all. But when we started looking deeper, we found that drinking was actually one of the more minor points of commonality.
During our lunch, I was really struck with a deep sense of respect for my Muslim friends. It was apparent that they loved God, were striving to live the best lives possible, cared for each other, and held a deep commitment to their faith. The mutual respect that was felt during that lunch was almost tangible. Each group took turns asking the other questions and sincerely listening to the answers. What struck me was how rare it is in our society to sit down and talk deeply about another person’s faith with the intent to learn from it and not argue about it. There is very little that is as personal to someone as their faith, and making an effort to really understand someone’s faith really helps you connect to them on a level that we don’t often get to with our classmates or coworkers. I loved it. Apparently, so did everyone else because the Q&A continued for about 45 minutes after the lunch was scheduled to end.
Having a chance to connect with people in such a deep way reminded me of how wonderful people of all faiths really are. I wonder what would happen if we took the time to listen and understand our neighbors, coworkers, and classmates on that level more often. My guess is that the world would be a much better place.
Gordon B. Hinckley, one of our prophets, has said that we should cultivate “a spirit of affirmative gratitude” for those of differing religious, political, and philosophical persuasions, adding that “we do not in any way have to compromise our theology” in the process. He gave this counsel: “Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.”
When have you had similar experiences? What have you found that has been helpful in connecting with people of other faiths? I’d love to hear.