Can we still respect each other when our beliefs disagree?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 9, 2015

“To respect others means to hold them in esteem, and to honour their right to have their own beliefs, dreams, ideas and thoughts (while) honouring our own right to be who we are.” —Janyce Konkin

This Thursday evening I have the honour of serving as moderator for a forum being held at the Cochrane RancheHouse on a topic very dear to my own heart and to the hearts of many of our coffee companions.

In fact, the theme resonates powerfully with a lesson I learned nearly 50 years ago from the late Chief Walking Buffalo (George McLean) about the most important value in his Stoney Nakoda culture.

Consider all the different kinds of trees and plants there are in the forest, the globetrotting goodwill ambassador often said. There are poplars, spruce, pine, willow, cranberry, and a wide variety of flowers. But they don’t fight with each other. They get along together just fine; they live in harmony.

The beauty of that harmony when it is found among people is expressed in Stoney by the wonderful word, oyade (pronounced oh-YAH-day), “town” or “community,” he told me. This is the same word translated as “peace.” Thus, a community is a place where peace and harmony prevail. And without oyade, community collapses.

One value above all others is essential for oyade to prevail, Walking Buffalo’s son former Chief Bill McLean later explained to me. That most important value is expressed in one word in Stoney: ahopabi: “Respect.”

Interestingly, respect was central to the thinking of one of our Calgary readers with whom I visited at Coffee Traders earlier this week.

Janyce Konkin is Alberta Regional Project Coordinator for Initiatives of Change Canada. At last month’s “2020 Vision for Humanity: Toward Human Security Worldwide” conference in Calgary, she spoke about “how we may more effectively honour the diversity of our human interactions while solving our conflicts and building bridges between cultures.”

It’s about “values-based conflict transformation” that fosters “mutual understanding that benefits all people involved, thus creating sustainable peace,” she said. Respect is one of those transformative values.

“Respect of self is what we have when we honour our inner feelings and allow them to guide us toward making right choices, wise choices. It is also honouring our right to be who we are; to have our own thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and dreams.

“To respect others means to hold them in esteem, and to honour their right to have their own beliefs, dreams, ideas and thoughts.”

What Janyce stressed was the mutuality of respect: respect for our own thoughts, ideas, beliefs and dreams, and respect for others to have their own thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and dreams, too.

But what if such beliefs are at odds with one another?

What if a Muslim woman believes it is a sign of her religiously informed modesty not to remove her hijab/scarf in public, while a judge before whom she is standing believes she is being disrespectful if she doesn’t remove her hijab?

What if a private faith-based law school defines marriage as a sacred union between a man and a woman, but a law society believes that amounts to discrimination and refuses to honour their degrees?

What if one religion believes women should be entitled to an education just as men are, but a government founded on a different view not only refuses to allow women that right, but punishes all members of that religion for even holding such a belief?

And what if followers of one religious tradition believe it is their sacred duty to educate their children within their own home and community, while leaders within another tradition say “No way,” take them long distances away from their home environment, and place them in residential schools?

We are not strangers to such conflict in our own day. All we have to do is read the headlines.

There has to be a better way, as Janyce so rightly argues for and Stoney culture rightly demands: the way of respect.

But what do religious traditions themselves, so often seemingly in conflict, have to say about the matter?

This Thursday evening April 9 at 6:30, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Calgary will be holding its 7th Annual World Religions Conference at the Cochrane RancheHouse. The free public forum will consider the topic, “Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Sanctities.”

In addition to Muslim, speakers will also represent Baha’i, Christian and First Nations perspectives, followed by questions from the audience.

My responsibility as moderator will be to facilitate a respect-based dialogue which, as in Walking Buffalo’s image of the forest, allows the poplars, spruce, cranberry bushes and flowers to contribute to the collective beauty of our pluralistic society without losing respect for their own particular contributions.

I hope you can attend.


© 2015 Warren Harbeck

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