I ventured out of the safety of the siloed, Facebook echo chamber of thought and position this week and attended two live Toastmaster meetings. Wow, did I get a healthy dose of reality and a refreshing view of diametric perspectives on the same topic.
It was a tale of two speeches, each given by an intelligent and thoughtful Toastmaster. Both speakers were white American women over 50 years old who I know and respect. Both speeches dealt with the topic of Islam but with dramatically different views, conclusions and calls to action.
One of the reasons I love going to Toastmaster meetings is the opportunity to see and hear (in more intimate detail than a 140 character Tweet or a short Facebook post) the thoughts, reasoning and opinions of my fellow club members and friends. I may not always agree with the premise presented but I always listen to and respect a well presented topic.
Nuance is something that is sorely lacking in today’s divided, abbreviated and often anonymous world of online communication. Nuance is what I appreciated when I listened to and compared the two viewpoints this week.
Speech #1 was given on Monday night and was done in the form of a book review. I was initially startled and taken aback by the titles of the books which included “ The Osama Bin Laden I Know” and a history of war in Afghanistan. The speaker encouraged us to open our minds to view Bin Laden is a different light and shared some history, context and perspective from the minds of a number of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
What was most powerful and intriguing was the personal dialogue I had with Speaker #1 after her presentation. I thanked her for sharing her views and thoughts with the club and then, to my surprise, she invited me to an Interfaith Open House at the Denver Islamic Center the following Saturday. Wow, talk about opening up your perspective and worldview!
Speech #2 was given on Saturday morning by a soft spoken yet earnest woman with a passion for liberty. Her topic was on the history of the Ottoman empire and the negative impact of radical Islam in the world today. It was an informative presentation meant to raise awareness and did not shed a very positive light on the rise of global jihad.
The second speech was given two days after Bastille Day and the awful carnage caused by a terrorist in Nice, France. How much did this influence my perspective and openness to visit the Islamic Center open house later that day?
My husband is a photographer with a talent for seeing and capturing things in dramatically different ways. He has taught me the importance of the type of lens, the angle of view and the lighting when capturing a moment. These concepts can readily be transferred into my views and experiences this past week with the pair of presentations on the complex topic of Islam. How can two Toastmaster woman of similar age and background see things in a such a different way? How much has my frame of reference (my lens) clouded or influenced my view of the subject? How has the lighting changed to modify my aspect?
These are the questions that I am asking myself today and I’m not sure that I know all the answers.
What I do know is that I need and crave a richer, fuller dialogue and conversation with my fellow humans on these delicate and difficult topics. I know that nuance and open, honest communication (which includes active listening) is key to coming to a better, more peaceful understanding of each others view points and values. I know that, sadly, this is not easy in today’s divided world of Us vs. Them.
It is a Matter of Perspective that cannot be easily shared or conveyed on the Internet and in Social Media networks where we are often “preaching to the choir” and rarely reach (never mind change the hearts and minds of) those with whom we disagree.
I encourage you to reach out to others on a more personal, live and interactive level so that you can hear viewpoints and opinions that you may not agree with.
Who knows? Perhaps a new frame of reference and a change in lighting may cause your perspective to shift.