even if it’s sunday may I be wrong

Idea - Day 312, originally uploaded by iamkr.
I popped into various panels at The Conference on World Affairs over the week. As each panelist gave their thoughts on a given topic there was a generosity in their speech no matter how much they might have disagreed with another on the panel. When it came to the Q&A times, though, there was a possessiveness among the audience that stood in dark contrast to such generosity.

In a panel discussion on “Practicing Religion in a Pluralist Society” there were two Muslims, one Jew, and another Jew converted to Buddhism. Each gave their take on the topic, mostly revolving around the need to move away from divisive postures within each individual's religion, and move toward more friendship, less tolerance, more acceptance. A Jew who teaches in Jerusalem sitting next to a Muslim from Iran traded thoughts, laughing and respecting what the other said, and agreeing more than not with each other.

Through out the discussion an older man and woman behind me made under-the-breath commentary on how they were Atheist and these scholars were missing the point. During the Q&A three different men stood to ask questions that were more angry than inquisitive, more about their need to make a statement (as if they were mad they hadn’t been asked to be on the panel). An older white man prefaced that he was an Atheist. Then he tried to make a point, without asking a question, that religions were the source of so many atrocities, the murders of so many humans across the centuries, and thus, proposing it would be better to not have religion in the first place, not realizing that his ardent declarations of Atheism sounded like the religious zealotry he so condemned. A man possessed with his need to be right.

The Islamic panelist from Iran, Mohammad Ja’far Mahallati responded to him pointing out that Atheism was the basis of Communist Russia and so responsible for the extermination of 100,000,000 people during it’s 80 year existence. But he did it in such a way that was not condescending, that was in the spirit of generosity. He spoke in the manner of two friends who might discuss serious topics without taking themselves too seriously in the process. Though the older white man had sat down, he steamed in his seat, turning red and trying to make a rebuttal, again emphasizing his posture of possessiveness.

Later in the week , I sat in a discussion about “How and Idea becomes Art.” The panel was just as diverse and the room just as packed. As each panel member gave their take on the creative process, they tended to build on what the previous speaker said. During the Q&A, they each engaged the questions as if they were the ones being taught and challenged. The whole experience for both audience and speakers was one of learning from each other, of humility without shame, of generosity.

It was in this that I started thinking about how we talk with each other. Everybody has an opinion and at day’s end they are nothing more than opinions. No matter how vehement and forceful a language one uses, it doesn’t change the base truth that what you are saying is opinion and one perspective. The Rabbis say that there are as many interpretations of Torah as there were people when God spoke Torah on Mt. Sinai, and I would say as many views on what they each saw, too. How well each perspective is heard is determined by how generous each one is spoken, and listened to.

E.E. Cummings wrote:
”May my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men show not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s Sunday may I be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young”

And may we each learn to be generous enough to not be so possessive about being right.
Kendall R2 Comments