Guy, Man, People, Dark, Shadow, Hands, Sad, Crying

“I’m here for you” is the thing you say,

But your tone and manner say “Go away.”

You do not seem to feel my pain

You response to it is quite inane

Have you ever felt low ebb

Or is your heart just in your head

I do not need your sympathy

But for you just to stand with me



Common Ground

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I had a long conversation with a very upset Palestinian girl recently.  The issue of conflict resolution was our lesson focus, but some of the case studies we looked at were centered on Gaza.  She assumed that her classmates would have settled opinions on the topic, and became anxious in anticipation of someone putting forward a view with which she could not emotionally agree or deal with.

When we spoke later she made it clear that her anticipation had been based on experience not just on fear.  She had suffered verbal abuse based on her religion and ethnicity in the past. True enough, their are those who make striking assertions and broadly cast stereotypes about Islam, and of religion more broadly. But, this does not mean that open, constructive dialogue is impossible.

Interfaith dialogue opens doors between communities.  It promotes understanding where knowledge is limited.  It helps us move from stereotype to a familiarity with diversity.

This is best done with candid open expressions of one’s own position.  Surrendering you own beliefs is not what it is about.  It is about sharing what YOU believe.  This does not mean  there will not be differences of viewpoint.  It does not mean we wont in fact have major points of disagreement. Nor does dialogue say, we will not have areas that can’t be readily resolved. But, the way forward is still through communication. One way to sum this up is with a motto of the US Navy Chaplains Corps, “Cooperation without Compromise.”  It is about empathy, and our common humanity.  Let us seek what unites us, not what divides us.

[Just a personal point, after years of religious dialogue (within Christianity and beyond), I am no less committed to my faith than when I began.  In fact, by explaining the reasons for my faith to others, it has become clearer and dearer to me].


Active Listening

“Active Listening” is a widely used technique in counselling, inter-faith dialogue, and conflict resolution. It focuses on what the other communicant is saying rather than how you want to respond. It takes some practice, but has excellent outcomes in enriching communication.

Listen, don’t just hear, and be sure to give the speaker positive reinforcement without too many verbal intrusions such as “yes,” and “I see.” This is better done non-verbally, through nods, smile (where appropriate), and posture. Eye contact is also important. It not only allows you to see the non-verbal cues of the speaker, but it gives them a sense of being followed and understood.

Your posture as already mentioned, is an important conveyer of meaning. An active listener tends to lean slightly forward. While a distracted or bored listener may shift positions or pull away from the speaker. An inattentive listener may also “clock watch” or fidget with a pen or other convenient object. So, keep in mind the messages you are sending.

Again, the goal is to actively take-in what is being communicated. Periodically you may want to ask some questions of clarification. These shouldn’t be too frequent, and ideally should not be attempts to direct the conversation. You may also want to use some reflection and summary of what has been said. For example, “so you are saying . . . .” This allows the speaker a chance to correct any misapprehensions, and reassures them that you are on the same general wavelength.

It is really useful in these exchanges to remember and feedback some exact points the speaker has made. It shows that you have understood, and that their message was important to you.

Summarising what the speaker has said is also a good technique, before moving any dialogue along. By restating the main points of the message and reiterating them gives the speaker chance to reflect on what has been said, and if needed to correct the received message.



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Remembering the Little Ones

I have written on several previous occasions about the loss of a child, and the trauma and mourning it brings.  Ariana Grande’s tribute concert will be in Manchester this evening to remember the terrible atrocity there on the 22nd of May.  Such a tribute is right and good.  It is a positive reaction to aid grieving families (emotionally and financially) and for the survivors to have an opportunity to begin overcome their fears.

Such ephemeral tributes as concerts have an impact.  But their are other longer term, emotionally enduring tributes to lost children as well.  I have visited several of these over time, and have found two of the most evocative to be the children’s memorials at the Vught Concentration Camp in The Netherlands, and at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The eight simple columns of the Vught memorial topped with Stars of David in itself is of affect as most Holocaust tributes do.  It is the names of the children, and their ages sometimes recorded in days or months rather than years that is the most unsettling.  Add to this the sculpted toys and left tributes that make it truly emotional.

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Yad Vashem’s memorial is even more emotive. From the sun-drenched white and cream of the surrounding stone, one enters into a dark tunnel.  Here you are confronted with emotional vocal music which is a strange mix of the sublime (snippets of heaven) and of lament (truly a feeling of loss).  As you pass photos of “lost children” you see a sea of pin point lights (representing the lost).  These are produced by only a handful of candles, but the refraction of multiple mirrors gives a cosmic field of light against the all pervading darkness.  When at the centre of the monument the names, nationalities and ages of children are solemnly recited on a seemingly endless recording.  One then returns to the dazzling brightness of the Jerusalem sun.

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The power of such memorials is intense.  Hopefully the effect will be equally memorable with Ms Grande’s tribute tonight. Some may balk at my linking of the Manchester attack and the Holocaust.  To this I can but paraphrase Yehuda Bauer, that we cannot compare people’s suffering or loss.  The pain is uniquely their own.  In the end, all attempts of memorisation pale to the loss of such innocents.  May God be with their friends and families, and grant them peace.