Build bridges with understanding, respect

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 22, 2018

Countering walls of fear with love, the Good Samaritan reached out to a stranger in distress. ClipArt supplied

Last week’s tribute to the late Romesh Anand drew several inspiring responses. The restaurateur and humanitarian was widely respected for building bridges of interfaith and interethnic understanding and goodwill. As he so often said, “The same stones used to build walls can be used to build bridges.”

Shaul Osadchey, Head Rabbi, Beth Tzedec Congregation, and Co-Chair, Calgary Interfaith Council, wrote:

“The story about bridge building was insightful and instructive.  For me, the issue is what are the materials that make the stones used to build the bridge. I would argue that the essential ingredients are understanding, respect, and gratitude for God’s gift of diversity. The emphasis on religious literacy is crucial to facilitating a better understanding of other people’s beliefs and practices and to eliminate stereotypes and misconceptions that lie at the heart of intolerance and prejudice.”

Cochrane educator Dean Schneider agrees on the importance of countering ignorance-driven intolerance with improved religious literacy. The editor of Fully Alive, a publication of RMEC (the Religious and Moral Education Council of The Alberta Teachers’ Association), wrote:

“‘Bridge-building,’ as you describe it, really seems a difficult balance sometimes…. We do have so much in common as humans to share and celebrate, and yet … there are real differences that cannot be ignored lest ignorance brush away the rights and cultures of those in lesser power.

“Rather than foster understanding through respectful dialogue, a growing number would simply prefer to label the other as ‘the enemy’ or to dismiss them outright, hoping they can drown them out through modern attempts at assimilation.

“I cannot claim to be a master bridge builder. However, the years leading up to today have convinced me that we are in desperate need of more such people as Romesh Anand. People who seek a place for everyone to exist and have a voice in – even those they disagree with. People who approach others with a mind open to learning and understanding others. People educated enough in their own worldview to be able to share it with intelligence, wisdom and respect.

“As editor of Fully Alive, I seek out such people so that Alberta’s educators can learn from them. There are so many forces pulling at our teachers and students right now – each with their own agenda. Some carry with them the weight of large lobby groups. Some carry with them the deep convictions of entire cultures or worldviews. Some are ignorant enough to think that there is only one worldview that Canadian students need to know about.

“I have faced and wrestled with the tensions created by these competing forces. My responses have not always been successful. But through each success and failure, I grow in the conviction that if we are to ever successfully share the pearls of wisdom we feel are ours to offer, we will do so far more successfully as bridge builders than we ever will as steam rollers. Steam rollers (even well-spoken ones) distort and destroy so that something can be replaced. Bridge builders connect people from different places and make further connection possible.”

Thank you, Rabbi Osadchey and Dean. Your responses are powerful reminders of the importance of rising above ignorance-fueled fear and suspicions about “the other” to acknowledge our common humanity without denying our own uniquenesses.

I’ll close with the celebrated bridge builder Martin Luther King, Jr.’s comment on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. In response to the question “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus told the interfaith story of a mugging victim lying in the ditch. Two leaders of the victim’s own faith spurned him, thinking, according to King, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” Then along came a Samaritan, a person of a rival tradition, who reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”


© 2018 Warren Harbeck

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