Friday, June 1, 2012

Creating authentic space for spirituality, hospitality, and community-building in business and professional development

The focus of discussion at the June 2012 meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues was hospitality, and its role in the concept of spiritual evolution.

An interesting research finding that Charles Mabee, who attended as a representative of the Hospitality Initiative, explained is that one of the main reasons a high level of anxiety is a cultural trait in the U.S. is the dissonance between how Americans view themselves and the reality of how they truly act and live. 

Scholar and professor Wayne Baker of the University of Michigan reported that when asked one trait they would characterize themselves with, most Americans polled said “kindness.” It doesn’t take scholarly analysis to see that this is not an accurate description of the “typical” American.

This simultaneous holding of two irreconcilable ideas has dangerously hindered Americans from realizing that what we consider warmly informal hospitality is really quite rude and exclusionary to the rest of the world. Outside the U.S., the model for hospitality is usually to welcome guests, then get to know them. 

Here, we do that in reverse, try to rationally “understand” before we open our hearts or homes to people different than us. This creates a sort of guilty-until-proven-innocent scenario, so that even if we rationally “understand” that, for example, Hindus aren’t polytheistic, or not all Muslims are terrorists, deep down we don’t really accept them because we’ve never extended true hospitality—and thus never opened the door to real friendship—to people unlike ourselves.

The Michigan-based Hospitality Initiative sees hospitality as “the new face of interreligious dialogue,” and seeks to bring it out of the temple, church, and synagogue, and into the home. The formation of this group was inspired by the 1997 Detroit Parliament of World Religions, which some of the key members of the Initiative helped organize. No event of that sort has been held since in southeastern Michigan, and the Initiative plans to revive the event in 2013, with a similar but updated purpose.

The setting of this MPC meeting couldn’t have been more apropos—interreligious hospitality is at the heart of everything the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkley, Michigan, does. Founded by Brother Al Mascia and Maggid Steve Klaper, Song and Spirit hosts spiritual retreats, interfaith musical performances, seminars by local religious leaders, arts and crafts, health and education outreach for impoverished communities, and more. (To read more about Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, please click here.)

The way the MPC demonstrates its commitment to doing what it talks about in the meetings is through brief presentations by participants about their personal or their organizations’ efforts to for intercultural and interfaith community-building.

One such presenter at this meeting was Lynne Golodner, founder of Your People, LLC, a public relations, marketing consulting, and business development firm. With the philosophy "the way to build a business is by building relationships," Golodner also hosts marketing seminars, writing retreats, and workshops on "Parenting without a Map."

Her work has also taken on an integrational spiritual perspective, with her current focus on the promotion of yoga (and yoga centers) as a tool for helping to increase awareness about spiritual practice being a lifestyle instead of just what people do one day a week in a particular building. 

Books are also an integral part of accomplishing the MPC’s community-building aims. One such book, just published by Read the Spirit Books, was written and produced by Joe Grimm’s journalism students at MSU, about bullying in the twenty-first century. Bullying is getting so much attention now because it infiltrates people’s lives a lot more than it ever could before, through our almost-constant connection to Internet-based media. Increasingly more of this bullying is focused on religion, making this book even more timely.

Read the Spirit also announced its plan to create a team, hopefully involving college students, to produce two small prayer books. One will be for interfaith chaplains, and the other will focus on praying in public. Both are very timely, because of the barriers non-Christian people, particularly recent immigrants, encounter when trying to keep their traditions in a country that historically has mistrusted—and often outright banned—public prayer, and where typically only Christian and sometimes Jewish spiritual guides are available in hospitals, schools, and the military. 

In addition to book publishing, Read the Spirit's Web site is filled with intriguing articles, author of the week interviews, and blogs about interfaith and intercultural topics.

I see what the folks of the MPC are doing and trying to make people aware of, and the amount of work that remains to be done looks overwhelming when taken in as a whole. The simplest way to summarize what I’ve learned about contributing to society outside of a 30-to-50-hour work week is to do what we can, when we can, rather waste that time worrying about what we can’t do right now. 

If we don’t have the time or resources to volunteer or donate regularly, we can at least read about and get to know people and organizations who are doing this work, and learn enough to help us really understand these issues and why it’s important to help promote a more cooperative and safe society for all types of people in everything we do, including in our most mundane daily tasks and encounters. 

That way, if we decide to become more directly involved, we won’t have to start with doing research; we’ll already know who we’d like to work with and what we’d like to do. We’ll be able to just “hit the ground running.” 

Image: “Welcome of the Trees” by Karla Joy Huber, 2001; colored pencil 

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