Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pluralism At It's Best: A Jew Has A Buddhist Epiphany

Posted July 30, 2008, 09:53 AM EDT
Larry Gellman, The Huffington Post

One of the many outstanding things about leaving Arizona to spend the summer in Aspen is the opportunity to meet, talk to, and learn from the amazing people who come to speak and teach at the Aspen Institute.

Last week was Aspen at its best. On Monday we got to hear King Abdullah of Jordan and a few days later I participated in a three-day symposium that featured His Holiness the Dalai Lama and several of the most highly regarded masters of Tibetan Buddhism in the world.

What better place for me--a self described student and proponent of Jewish wisdom--to put the notion of pluralism to the test. As my readers know, I have identified pluralism as the key to addressing virtually every religious, political, and personal problem in the world.

I came into this group knowing absolutely nothing about Buddhism other than the fact that I have come to resemble Buddha physically to a distressing extent in recent years.

But that changed very quickly. During the first day and a half before the arrival of His Holiness I had the opportunity to study with two amazing Buddhist masters.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dialogue vs Debate

Before continuing our review of Appreciative Inquiry and the ways in which it improves the experiences shared by our Common Tables Members, let's first take a week or so to be sure we are all on the same page as far as understanding the differences between Dialogue and Debate.

First let's agree that the differences between and among dialogue and debate should not imply that dialogue is "good" and that debate is "bad." There are times when debate is useful instructional strategy - though we suggest that in most cases your Common Tables gathering is not an appropriate place for debate.

The the list below is simply intended to highlight some of the differences between Dialogue and Debate:
  • Dialogue is collaborative: two or more sides work together toward common understanding.
  • Debate is oppositional: two sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong.
  • In dialogue, finding common ground is the goal.
  • In debate, winning is the goal.
  • In dialogue, one listens to the other side(s) in order to understand, find meaning and find agreement.
  • In debate, one listens to the other side in order to find flaws and to counter its arguments.
  • Dialogue enlarges and possibly changes a participants point of view.
  • Debate affirms a participant's own point of view.
  • Dialogue reveals assumptions for re-evaluation.
  • Debate defends assumptions as truth.
  • Dialogue causes introspection on ones own position.
  • Debate causes critique of the other position.
  • Dialogue opens the possibility of reaching a better solution than any of the original solutions.
  • Debate defends one's own positions as the best solution and excludes other solutions.
  • Dialogue creates an open-minded attitude: an openness to being wrong and an openness to change.
  • Debate creates a close-minded attitude, a determination to be right.
  • In dialogue, one submits ones best thinking, knowing that other people's reflections will help improve it rather than destroy it.
  • In debate, one submits one's best thinking and defends it against challenge to show that it is right.
  • Dialogue calls for temporarily suspending one's beliefs.
  • Debate calls for investing wholeheartedly in one's beliefs.
  • In dialogue, one searches for basic agreements.
  • In debate, one searches for glaring differences.
  • In dialogue one searches for strengths in the other positions.
  • In debate one searches for flaws and weaknesses in the other position.
  • Dialogue involves a real concern for the other person and seeks to not alienate or offend.
  • Debate involves a countering of the other position without focusing on feelings or relationship and often belittles or deprecates the other person.
  • Dialogue assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and that together they can put them into a workable solution.
  • Debate assumes that there is a right answer and that someone has it.
  • Dialogue remains open-ended.
  • Debate implies a conclusion.

Adapted from a paper prepared by Shelley Berman, which was based on discussions of the Dialogue Group of the Boston Chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday's Food for Thought

"Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress."

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices."

William James (1842 - 1910)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

". . . you just have to trust and eat."

In a recent interview a reporter asked, "Why is it that the way you do things at Common Tables seems to be so effective?"

To which I responded, “How it all works is a bit of a mystery. But sometimes you just have to trust and eat.”

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ethic of Reciprocity - The Golden Rule

"Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people's suffering. On these lines every religion had more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal." The Dalai Lama

The various religious, spiritual and philosophical groups differ widely in their beliefs, practices and concepts of diety. Given this diversity, it is interesting that these groups are nearly unanimious in their belief that each of us should treat others in a fair and decent manner. We find in the holy texts and/or in the writings of the leaders of almost all of these groups passages which promote what is frequently called the Ethic of Reciprocity. In North America it is most commonly know as the Golden Rule and is most often expressed as "Do unto others as you would wish them do unto you."

For many in the Common Tables family the high points of their experience are found in the discovery of the common grounds, the shared beliefs that are held by those at their Table. While we will return to a discussion of the Ethic of Reciprocity a number of times over the next few months, we simply close this week's entry with a couple of examples:

Brahmanism: "This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you". Mahabharata, 5:1517

Confucianism: "Tse-kung asked, 'Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?' Confucius replied, 'It is the word 'shu' -- reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.' Doctrine of the Mean 13.3

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Appreciative Inquiry & Common Tables

We at Common Tables have been working to develop an optional dialogue track for our Tables . . . a track based on "Appreciative Inquiry" - an exciting dialogue based system for creating positive change. In Common Tables we will be suggesting Appreciative Inquiry as an approach to encourage our members to study, discuss, learn from and build on what's working in interfaith relations, rather than simply trying to fix what isn't.

In today's entry we begin a weekly discussion about Appreciative Inquiry - what is it? why is it producing such extraordinary results across such a broad spectrum of organizations? and how do we see it being implemented in Common Tables?

We are going to start this week by taking a look at the first two of the "Eight Principals of Appreciative Inquiry". This material is from the wonderful book The Power of Appreciative Inquiry by Diana Whitney and, a special friend of Common Tables, Amanda Trosten-Bloom:

Principal Number 1: The Constructionist Principal - Words Creat Worlds
  • Reality, as we know it, is a subjective vs. objective state.
  • It is socially created, through language and conversations.

Principal Number 2: The Simultaniety Principle - Inquiry Creates Change

  • Inquiry is intervention.
  • The moment we ask a question, we begin to create a change.

We'll continue our look at Appreciative Inquiry over the coming weeks. It is a topic you'll find well worth your time to follow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Table Grace - Part 4

It has been a month since we last shared some of our favorite table blessings from our interfaith collection. Today we offer an example from the Eastern Orthodox Tradition and one from Swami Paramananda:

O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us! Lord, cleanse us from our sins! Master, pardon our transgressions! Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name's sake.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy! (3 times)

O Christ God, bless the food and drink of Thy servants, for Thou art holy, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Eastern Orthodox

May the Lord accept this, our offering, and bless our food that it may bring us strength in our body, vigor in our mind, and selfless devotion in our hearts for His service.
Swami Paramananda

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Heard From The Tables

Mike C., Colorado, Common Tables Member

“I will use whatever means are available to me to help you promote Common Tables as a way to foster love, tolerance and peace among all people. Let our collective involvement in Common Tables be an example to others. Let us show what people of different faiths and beliefs can do when they celebrate their shared commitment to Universal Spiritual Truth while each follows the tenets of their own faith authentically.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday's Food for Thought

"I would like the church to be a place where the questions of people are honored rather than a place where we have all the answers. The church has to get out of propaganda. The future will involve us in more interfaith dialogue. ... We cannot say we have the only truth."

Bishop John Shelby Spong

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Listening: The Language of Peace - Part 3

Attention-Focusing Practice

Here is a simple way to build your attention focusing skills . . . and all it requires is a television and a few minutes of undisturbed time. This is all you need to do:

  1. Find a television program where the speaker talks for several minutes at a time without interruption. Political speeches are generally easy to find and can be particularly challenging to listen to.

  2. Pay attention to both words and body language. Give the speaker your full attention. Each time your attention drifts, refocus on the speaker. Don’t get discouraged if at first you can only stay focused for 15 or 20 seconds at a time. It will get easier with practice.

  3. The goal is to continue regular practice sessions until you get to the point where you are able to stay focused for ten minutes or longer. (It is important that you actually time yourself. It is easy to over estimate time when you are trying to listen.)
    Those members with experience in meditation or the martial arts will recognize this type of practice. Attention focusing is a mental discipline and requires practice – regardless of the context.


Most of us are far better at talking than we are at listening; however, listening is a skill we can all learn. All it takes is a desire to be a better listener and practice, practice, and more practice. To learn to focus attention on a speaker without judgment or internally generated thoughts will for many be the hardest part of the Common Tables experience, and yet it is perhaps the most important skill you can bring to your table.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Listening: The Language of Peace - Part 2

Attention-Focusing Skills

If you are unable to focus, in a sustained manner, on the words, meaning and body language of the speaker, you will have trouble really “getting” what the speaker is communicating. In term of the Common Tables experience, you cannot be a good listener if:
  • you are judging the speaker and/or the speaker’s belief system while he/she is speaking. Time you spend in judgment is going to interfere with the goal of understanding the speaker from the speaker’s perspective.
  • you allow your attention to drift while the other person is speaking.
  • you spend most of the other person’s conversational time waiting for a chance to ask someone to pass the mashed potatoes.
  • you are mentally rehearsing your response and eagerly waiting for “your turn” to speak.
In short, if while someone else is talking you are engaged mentally or physically in any activity other than focusing on the speaker, you can’t be a good listener.