How do you know when you can call someone a bigot? Is it a matter of the words they use? At what point do we draw the line and exclude people from the conversation because they are ‘too far gone’? Is it when they take their beliefs and put them into violent or harmful actions or is the line somewhere before that? My smart phone dictionary tells me that it is an adjective describing a person “having or revealing an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions and prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others.” Our culture, more often than not, throws words around thoughtlessly. It happens with all kinds of words, but often with words that can be the most hurtful. “That’s so gay.” “They are all terrorists.” “I can’t believe how bigoted that post was.” I wonder how many people we in the interfaith world exclude because of our flippant words? Have you ever said something and immediately regretted it? You try to take it back and apologize, but the words will ring in your ears as you pillow your head. The internet is different than spoken word. Once something is posted, it seems to be there for all eternity as a permanent representation of our personal opinion. Are we conscience of this? Do we use the written word more flippantly than we would if the person we were talking to was sitting across from us? Chuck Warnock wrote a great article on Huffington Post Religion Blog, Six Questions to Ask Before You Tweet, that we can use to monitor what we post. I highly recommend it because the questions are thoughtful and cover more than just tweeting.
I hope that those of us engaged in interfaith dialogue are especially conscience of our words. Do we come to the defense of those unfairly being stereotyped? How much courage does it take to say to a group of people, ‘please don’t use hateful words?’ I have to admit that I do not always respond the way I should. Sometimes the shock of what was said throws me off balance, and I spend those first few crucial seconds trying to comprehend what just happened. One of the interfaith rules that helps me with this is “Ouch, Oops, Aha.” If you are having a conversation and someone says something offensive, you may say “ouch!” In an interfaith setting where these rules are already established, the person speaking would automatically respond to the “ouch!” with “oops.” And then a discussion can begin to address the misunderstanding. Hopefully this leads to a revelation, the “aha!” moment. In settings where the rules are not established, a dinner party, a staff meeting, an internet blog, we can say “ouch!” when we see people being attacked. That affords us the opportunity to explain the full “Ouch, Oops, Aha” rule. What other tools do you use to help others when they are being attacked for their religious or philosophical beliefs?
My faith tells me “death and life are in the power of the tongue…” in the book of Proverbs. It is something that I try to keep in mind when talking to people I’ve never met before. I can either bring them into relationship with me, or I can push them away from ever wanting to know anything about me much less my faith. Let’s bring people into our conversation, not exclude them.