What’s the Role of Dialogue During Covid-19?

Interfaith America Editor, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, asked journalist Zaid Jilani, Bridging Differences Writing Fellow, questions about Greater Good’s work in the era of Covid-19 and the upcoming virtual conference “Bridging Differences: A Virtual Summit for Dialogue and Understanding” which he will be part of. The Conference, on May 15, is open to the public and will include IFYC President, Dr. Eboo Patel and Senior Director of Leadership, Jenan Mohajir, as well as IFYC alum, Rev. Jen Bailey.  Go to the website for more information and to sign up. 

Q: How has Covid-19 focused your thinking about compassion and how we can understand people different from us in this time of social distancing?

A: Covid-19 has made us think about our own frailty—and that of our society—in a way that many of us aren't used to. Personally, I have seen an outpouring of community support for individuals who are highest at risk—such as the elderly and essential workers. I think more and more, Americans are waking up to the reality of inequalities in our society and acting compassionately towards those who are facing great peril in the face of this pandemic. Although we aren't all equally susceptible to the virus, we all feel at least somewhat vulnerable and that helps open our hearts towards those who are sick or facing even greater risk than we are. More than ever, we have to behave compassionately and think about the plight of people from all walks of life, because this pandemic doesn't end until everyone is safe from this virus. 

Q: There are two competing narratives about what this moment is doing to us: We are going to use this time to become more understanding and interconnected world, or, Things are going to become even more polarized, unjust and adversarial.  Which are you seeing right now and what can we do to ensure that we move towards the former not the latter?

A: It's easy to look at negative events in the news or in our communities and grow pessimistic. But, it's truly remarkable to see that the vast majority of Americans are supportive of stay-at-home measures and social distancing despite our country's great cultural and social divides. People are coming up with creative ways to support communities that are on the frontline of the pandemic, and even with tens of millions of Americans suddenly unemployed, people are working together to aid the sick and comfort the afflicted. However, we could see this surge in compassion turn into a surge of polarization if we don't see strong leadership from government officials to address both the public health crisis and the economic catastrophe that is now underway. In times of pandemics, we tend to see more scapegoating of minority groups, a tightening of social cultures and more suspicion towards our neighbors. The quicker we can address the two major forms of stress bearing down on our societies, the quicker we can reduce any heightened polarization in our society.

Q: If you were to offer advice to a random person, like, say, me, about how to stay well and open and hopeful right now, what would you say?

A: Remember that your emotions aren't the same thing as reality. If you feel despondent one day and think, "I feel like life will never return to normal," that does not mean life will never return to normal. Remind yourself of the good things in life, the friends and family you have, and always remember that everything in life -- good and bad -- has a beginning, middle and end. You had a life before this pandemic, and you will have one after it as well. In the meantime, treasure what you have -- talk to your loved ones, read a good book, learn a new skill. Use this time in the fullest.

Q: What do you hope people get out of the conference and what kind of people should attend?

A: We are trying to support the needs of a broad audience at this event. People should attend if they are "professional bridgers"-- that could mean that they work for organizations where bridging is key to their mission, or they work in meditation or conflict resolution. But, we also want very much to engage people who work in diverse sectors--such as education, health care, or in faith communities, for instance--where it is important that they help people navigate their differences, perhaps now more than ever, but they don't necessarily have formal training in how to do so.

We hope all of these audiences come away from the conference with two things. First, we hope they leave inspired and convinced that it is actually possible for people and groups to work through their differences—those differences don't need to divide us. And second, we hope they come away with practical, research-based strategies for actually bridging those differences in their work or even in their personal life. They should gain an understanding of some fundamental principles for fostering more positive dialogue and understanding between groups--principles that they can start to apply tomorrow, even if they're not working with a formal program or curriculum.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Ms. Moore discusses what an Office of Equity and Racial Justice does, how she and her team adapted amid the pandemic, and how religious communities are crucial partners for social change, connection, and healing.  
"We know that people of all faiths and philosophical traditions hold shared values that can serve as a foundation for a common life together."
How do we fight the evil and darkness during this time? No matter how small or how far we might be from the situation, we could use our voices to speak up, come to stand together as one human kind.
Musa writes an insightful analysis of data at the intersection of race and religion. He writes: "non-Black Americans seem to be fleeing religion because it’s become too political. Blacks seem to be leaving because it’s not political enough."
And as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, the currently closed museum is highlighting these artifacts tied to Islam on its website's blog.
In light of the urgent need for care within our families, communities, and movements, where can and should interfaith leaders fit in?
In the United States, our laws assure the separation of Church and State. So Sikh and Muslim kids growing up in public schools will never be taught that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem.
Vaisakhi, which falls April 13 or 14 depending on which of two dueling calendars one follows, marks the day in 1699 when Sikhism took its current form.
The presentation focused on how chaplains and spiritual life professionals can discover and utilize meaningful data to demonstrate the value of their work in higher education.
Still, there were glimmers that Ramadan 2021 could feel less restricted than last year, when Islam’s holiest period coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar commemorating Muhammad’s reception of the Qur’an, begins on Monday.
"Ramadan can be an opportunity for Muslims in interfaith relationships to introduce their partners to the core beliefs and teachings of Islam, as well as to the ways different Muslim cultures share what is a deeply communal experience."
This year, Ramadan will begin on Monday or Tuesday (April 12 or 13), depending on when Muslims around the world sight the new moon that signals the beginning of the lunar month.
"In the Qur’an, God – Exalted Be He – proclaims that we should ask the people endowed with knowledge…All the experts are saying the same thing: please get vaccinated and do it now."
"Among the topics educators must address to reduce bullying and to ensure representation in the classroom are religion and religious identity."
Whether I am based in Los Angeles, Washington DC, or Kansas City, I remain committed to building bridges of mutual respect and understanding among people of different backgrounds.
Biden said the partnership between the seminary and a community health center is one of many that are happening between religious and medical organizations across the nation.
"All the more so, we need more translators to help us understand what exists before our eyes, yet remains elusive to our understanding."
'Montero' is the anthem of a Black gay man roaring back from years of self-hate caused by anti-LGBTQ+ theologies. As a queer child of the Black church, it’s an anthem that resonates with me.
The rise of the "nones" — people who say they have no religion — is to some extent the result of a shift in how Americans understand religious identity.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.