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Pamay Bassey Headshot

How to Prevent Violence and Increase Interfaith Dialogue

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Not too long ago, we were all thoughtfully taking a moment to commemorate the anniversary of the unforgettable events of Sept. 11. We prayed, observed moments of silence and remembered loved ones lost.

Since then we learned that four Americans were killed in Libya on the same day -- including American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, diplomat Sean Smith, and two others yet to be named. The violence was motivated by the trailer for a movie meant to share one filmmaker's view that "Islam is a cancer" within the world. The filmmaker, so-called Sam Bacile, is reportedly in hiding -- or he doesn't exist, depending on which articles you read. In any case, a hand grenade of hate was tossed into the world, and now we are left to deal with the painful reality that people died because of it.

Unnecessary violence, lost lives -- all because of intolerance among those who practice different religions.

You may wonder what that has to do with you. You live your life every day, not making anti-anything movies and not wishing harm to anyone. In fact, you're staunchly against faith-based discrimination and violence.

And even though it may feel like, "Libya is far away," or "Those parts of the world are not like my corner of the world," there's more of a connection than meets the eye.

Any actions taken to contribute to a world where we see more interfaith and inter-religious understanding, dialogue, respect and, dare I say, love -- those are worthwhile actions.

Perhaps you actually struggle to take concrete steps out of your comfort zones and into interfaith relationships with fellow community members. Taking these steps to connect with new people in your world -- ideally before conflict arises -- is powerful beyond measure. Because like with many social ills, religious strife is often comprised of a series of small, harmful assumptions that often add up to a large, avoidable tragedy.

Trust that the effort is worth it. Don't underestimate the power of your own contribution, of taking small steps out of your comfort zone and reaching out to someone who worships differently than you, believes differently than you, lives differently than you. Don't know how to do it? Revisit a few tips in one of my previous posts. In addition, here are two more:

1. Be humble. When you speak to someone about their religion, listen with a goal to understand. You'll quickly realize that you have something to learn. You may even realize that you have more in common with that person than you think.

2. Should you choose to visit a worship service in your community that is foreign to you, just go with the flow! In an unfamiliar situation, sometimes the best thing to do is just stand up when everyone stands, and sit when everyone sits! Places of worship are full of kind, helpful people. Keep your eyes open, stay silent and blend if you prefer -- or whisper to your neighbors, let them know you are new, and they will likely help you navigate.

Politics, power and religion can make for a mighty explosive combination that sometimes leads to death and destruction. But if you make a decision, in your own life, to reach out across the sometimes wide chasm of religious beliefs and practices, you can make a difference -- not in a pie in the sky, polyanna way, but in a real, tangible way that will benefit your community, your reality and your life.

When we live with the intention of understanding others who are different than us, one day we' may suddenly look up and find that our small actions have in fact led us to "love our neighbors." That love can make today, and each day, a day to remember.

Heartfelt prayers for Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Services Officer Sean Smith, the two fellow Americans (names not yet released) and all who will remember them.