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A Simple Tweak to Encourage Interfaith Dialogue

Guest Author: 
Gudjon Bergmann

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

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 “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, in fact, 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 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 beliefs of his own. He didn’t see his belief system, which was outside of the realm of traditional religion, to be a system of beliefs, but rather he saw it as the truth.

​A Form of Self-Exploration

​This approach, of qualifying statements about beliefs and values with words such as “I believe” or “my tradition says,” is also a form of self-exploration. 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 and make it clear that you know what you believe, you will open the door for others to do the same.

Gudjon Bergmann is the founder of Harmony Interfaith Initiative, where this post was originally published. Born in Iceland, he moved to the United States in 2010. He is an ordained interfaith minister, the author of more than 20 books, a seasoned teacher and speaker, loving husband to his wife and partner Johanna, and grateful father of two children.


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