Sometimes a teacher, often a student

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The request was for me to talk to an audience about how to conduct civil, meaningful and honest discussions among people with different faiths, politics and philosophies. The inviter, an Episcopalian deacon, explained she watched our weekly TV show and was impressed how we were able to accomplish this each week.

The group was Congregations for Social Justice, and I must admit to not knowing much about them. My host had told me there would be a multicultural group of people from different faiths, people searching for solutions to social ills, people wanting better tools to achieve those goals. I confess to spending more time preparing for this speech than most, wanting to have the proper tone and a helpful message.

From the minute I entered the hall it was obvious this was going to be an interesting evening. I encountered not only a diversity of age, race and sex, but clearly of different faith traditions. Over introductions and table talk I learned some of the various issues in which members of the group were interested ranging from affordable housing to immigration, hunger, homelessness and discrimination in many forms.

This group does not appear to be an advocate for any single issue but instead a clearinghouse for many, a group of kindred souls longing for justice and peace. And it struck me that while they might have invited me, hoping I could instruct them how to have more fruitful discussions, it was really I who was the student, not the teacher.

Here was what this evening taught me. People of goodwill, who genuinely desire to find common ground, can come together, share food, discuss ideas and hear others’ concerns without animosity, name calling, accusations and disagreement. Looking around the crowd there were some dressed in business attire, others in workers’ clothes. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many different faiths were present, however what really struck me was the obvious lack of political discussion. Instead there was a yearning for mutual understanding, respect and genuine concern for others.

I am not sure I imparted anything of value to them, but I came away knowing I had been taken to school. I had witnessed a living example of how we are supposed to treat one another, a more gentile and loving way to live.

This evening reminded me of the ideals attributed to Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

In these uncertain times, with events hurling at us so fast we don’t have time to process them, this is a prayer worth repeating and ideals worth following, regardless of our faith, our politics or circumstances.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of “N.C. Spin,” a weekly statewide television discussion of N.C. issues that airs on UNC-TV main channel Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m., and UNC North Carolina Channel Fridays at 10 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.

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