By Mary Gaylord
Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing a Living Room Conversation via video technology on the topic of Faith and Religion in Society. I have done many Living Room Conversations but this one was one of my favorites.
Because we met digitally, we were able to come together as people that ordinarily might never cross paths. Participants included an agnostic, a woman raised in the Catholic tradition, a man raised in the Mormon tradition, an Indian man with a strong spiritual practice, a young woman of the southern Christian tradition, and a yoga teacher. We span the Midwest, the Bay area, Utah, Texas, Virginia, Colorado and DC, from towns large and small. We are conservative, moderate, and progressive. Our ages run from 20-something to 70-something.
I was ready for fireworks. One should NEVER talk about politics or religion in polite company, right? With so much diversity in perspective, experience, geography, age, and religion, this conversation had the potential to be explosive.
And it was.
But not in the way I was thinking.
There was an explosion by way of meaningful human connection and deeply rewarding conversation. It was the kind of experience that had and continues to have a profound effect on me. It sparked something in me that made me feel hopeful.
Seven people who’d never met in this way before took their differences and made them part of a deep, rich, conversation with many nuanced perspectives. It was a mosaic of so many different parts coming together and forming a beautiful picture.
These people created this exquisite picture through respect, relating, and conversation.
It’s not lost on me that stained glass mosaics are a frequent artform in religious and spiritual settings. The beautiful mosaic created through our conversation on a traditionally divisive topic was powerful in a quiet and unassuming way.
This got me thinking about why this experience was so remarkable. The people in the conversation are ordinary people, not world leaders or community organizers. They are college-students, grandparents, teachers, and more.
They are like you and me, and millions of other people living in this country. If they can come together as strangers and talk about a divisive topic in a way that is thoughtful and engaging, is it possible that others could also do this?
Millions of others?
Is it possible we could gather with others who come at things from different points of view and listen, focusing on our shared humanity rather than our differences?
Like our small group of 7, could we move toward creating a mosaic in our nation that is something we can all stand back and admire and feel good about being a part of?
There are many things about our nation’s mosaic that I find beautiful. And there are parts that I find deeply flawed, even ugly. The creation of our national mosaic is a shared responsibility. We’ve all contributed to the picture in ways big and small, in ways that are beautiful, and in ways that leave us desperately yearning for a different sort of picture.
I know creating a different picture is possible. It requires civility. It requires focusing on our shared humanity. It’s requires real listening and real conversations where we find connection with one another.
I’m all in for creating a more beautiful mosaic — a picture I want to be a part of.
Mary Gaylord is a Program Development Partner with Living Room Conversations, an organization committed to bringing together people with differences in a friendly, structured, conversational format. She has worked as a community mediator, victim-offender reconciliation specialist, and facilitator of bully prevention programming for school-aged children. She lives in the Rocky Mountains and is passionate about spending time outdoors with family and friends.