The Interfaith Peace Project is committed to fostering interfaith understanding among people. We encourage people to confront their fears, stereotypes, and prejudices so as to enhance the quality of their understanding and appreciation of others and their understanding of life. “How” we speak to one another is as important as “what” we say. Dialogue requires we continuously cope with our fears and misunderstandings.
The current Presidential campaign in the United States illustrates the point. Name-calling, stereotyping, and false accusations hurt and impair constructive dialogue. While the harsh rhetoric of political campaigns has been always with us, the dissemination of such irresponsible language looms large on the landscape of contemporary media communications (from talk radio to Twitter). The political rhetoric claims religious credibility in not a few cases. They claim the sum and substance of the “cultural war” is religious in nature as if the “truly” religious are of one political persuasion rather than another. In this context, the “way” we speak to and about one another is a justice issue.
It is not a matter of semantics. Language and the tone of our voice demand respectful engagement or our discourse dissolves into religiously justified “hate” speech. Those of us engaged in interfaith dialogue need to be mindful of the power of our language to foster peace and understanding. All of us can remember when someone’s words caused us great distress and much sorrow. Language can be abusive, harsh, and destructive. We can literally create or destroy by the language we use.
Those who speak publically must be acutely aware that the significance of their words is magnified by the power of a highly sophisticated communications industry to deliver their message globally and immediately. Public speakers of all types need to be aware the significance of their words and the power their words have to contribute or destroy the well-being of others.
Religious leaders and those who exert religious influence must point out the destructive consequences caused when language and tone of voice enables contempt and de-humanization. Issues, no matter how important, are secondary to the dignity of persons. The interfaith community must adhere to a high moral standard when it comes to the way we speak to and about one another. Controversial issues demand an honest pursuit of all the perspectives involved. Mutual understanding is not a nicety but a necessity. We must learn to speak as we would be spoken to and about.
The great Faith Traditions of humankind celebrate the power of speech. The ability to speak signifies our divine origin and our destiny. Our words will live after us. Future generations will know us by the legacy of our words. Our words will form the heart and soul of our contribution to humanity especially if our words became the deeds by which others were blessed.
Simply think of someone who has died. How did their words empower or curse you? Such a simple exercise opens for us the power of speech to build up or tear down. Let us honor one another by the power of our speech to build up, empower, and bless.