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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Randy Paul Interview Part II: Establishing Trust

by jpaul (bio)

Over the past eleven years, Randy Paul (Harvard MBA, University of Chicago PhD) has focused his time, talent and energy on establishing a foundation that allows religious opponents to sit down together and have meaningful dialogue, not to resolve irresolvable differences, but to sustain them in peaceful tension.

Part I of my interview with Randy described how the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy came into existence and what he hopes to achieve. Part II, below, describes how Randy proposes that meaningful dialogue can be established between believers holding strong, opposing religious beliefs.

The full audio recording can be found here: LINK

Jeff: You believe we can honor those with opposing beliefs by listening to their views and taking them seriously. Can you uphold that honor without offending the other person when it is known on both sides that each think the other is wrong? How do we share our beliefs that we feel strongly about without offending others?

Randy Paul: That is a great question. We like to ask it in this way: How can you respect, let alone trust, someone who is wrong about the most important matter of all, God and the right way of life? The Foundation has found that there is a methodology that anyone can learn and use to begin to build trust with those we think to be wrong. This trust even allows offensive or dangerous views to be faced without people taking offense. There are four steps you can take to begin to build this trust with a religious rival. First, you get centered about your own beliefs and commitments. This means you have done the deep work to respect and trust yourself and a Higher Power (if your are a theist). In essence, you ask yourself, “Am I truly trying to live my religion with integrity?” If yes, then Second, you ask yourself, “Am I confident and caring enough to be open in an honest exchange of influence with someone who will challenge my beliefs?“ If yes, then Third, “Do I desire to be transparent about my various motives for engaging in a deeper relationship of mutual influence with my religious rival or opponent?” If yes, then Fourth, “Am I ready to listen half of the time, and be forthcoming half of the time in honest conversation?” These steps are based on a law of social life that describes the reciprocity inherent to trust-building: when people feel that they are important enough to you that they can influence you, then they take down their psychological wall and allow you to influence them. (Remarkably -- and we can talk about this later -- this law of reciprocity and these steps prepare us for a rare and powerful experience with our religious rivals - a new mode of mutually respectful missionary-to-missionary engagement.

Jeff: That’s good advice for any leader in business, a father or a spouse.

Randy Paul: Exactly, when children feel they can influence you, then they will be more open to what you say. Once you reach that point inside yourself, then you pick somebody who you want to engage over religion or any difficult topic; someone not of your faith, or worldview. The first thing you do is go to lunch or dinner, eat with that person face to face and do not bring up religion. Bring up anything that you love in life that isn’t religion and make sure that person has the same kind of exchange with you. In other words, talk about the things that will give the person some background about you, that makes you feel human to that person. Then, as that discussion is happening, which may take an hour, you bring up the question. “I would like to get to really know you better - can we share our basic beliefs?” “Do you want to go for it?” If the answer is “yes,” then you can agree to meet again and share your stories of how you came to your beliefs and going from there to ask each other questions. This simple process starts to build trust by decreasing uncertainty and suspicion.

Jeff: What type of subject matter would you agree discussing beforehand?

Randy Paul: “What do you think about abortion?” “What do you think about free will?” “Is there life after death?” Include whatever questions you want to raise with someone. Then ask, “What questions would you like to raise with me?” You create a list of anywhere from 5-10 good questions that you both agree you would like to talk about and you prepare a time where it is quiet and conducive to a 2-3 hour conversation, probably not dinner. Go over these questions one at a time, sharing the time equally.

There is one tip that will help you come away enriched. We have found the first question that any dialogue should start with is, “How did you come to your deepest or most cherished belief? Tell me your story of how you came to those beliefs. I’ll shut up and listen for a half an hour. If it’s a long one, I am delighted. And then I will tell you mine.” Note that I did not say, “Start out by saying what your beliefs are.” I started out by asking how you came to your beliefs. That is the melt-down question, that is the one that gets people to really start listening to each other and to see themselves in the other. Almost inevitably that question builds that trust in the other human being. There will be a story there that you want to hear and vice versa. That’s how you start and then drill down to more specific questions. We help people cluster those questions, such as, "Tell me what you love most about your religion."  "Tell me what bothers you about your religion."  Then say, “Tell me what you find interesting about my religion. Do you know anything about my religion? What do you find interesting? What do you find that bugs you about my religion? What do you think is weird?” There are many possible questions.

Participants begin to exchange those kinds of discussions. You end up having the difficult conversation in two areas. One, “What you like to see me change in my religion. What is offensive or difficult? Be honest with me, I want to know. What, if anything, would you want to make part of your religion?” In the end, you get to that deep level of exchange of desires for change. And then you decide whether you want to continue these discussions or if you felt that was enough.

Jeff: I imagine those discussions become very insightful for both participants and establish very rewarding relationships.

Randy Paul: I could almost predict that with certainty. What we have found time and time again is that you will have a relationship with that person unlike 99% of your other relationships. In two to three solid hours of this kind of a discussion with someone, I don’t care what they believe, you will come away feeling that that person is an amazing human being. You may walk away from the meeting and look up in the sky and ask God, “Why haven’t you made the truth known to that amazing person?” We find that this is the right question to be asking because it shows humility. You don’t know why God hasn’t done it and you are asking an honest question. You no longer are in a point of judgment, thinking, “That person is an idiot, that person is evil.” You throw that out and can’t believe that stuff anymore because you met the person face to face. Not to say there aren’t stupid, evil people in the world. There are, and I have probably been one at times in my life. We like to live in the tension of that question. Why has God not made the same truth clear to everybody?

Jeff: Any final tips on how to build trust in the relationship and facilitate a meaningful dialogue?

Randy Paul: When hearing the other person’s faith building experiences, they may sound similar to your own story or others you have heard. It is important in dialogue to take enough time to verify each other’s experiences and that you don’t say to yourself, “Oh, they’ve had the exact experience I have had.” This is a very important point I am making. We do share, each of us, a journey that we are on. But I am not saying that these journeys are identical or that the spiritual experiences we are having are identical. Part of good religious dialogue is imputing your experience to another, saying, “Oh yeah, I get it, I get it. Go on.” However, that often makes people distrust each other because they see they are too quickly placed in your interpretive box. It is as if you are not really interested in their difference, you just want to make them the same as you are so you can understand them and not have to think about them in a troubling way. You know what I mean? You‘ve been around people who really want to end the discussion by putting you in a box of categories they’ve already created. To create new categories and new boxes takes work, and we often don’t want to do this. I don’t want your readers to think that all religions have the same spiritual experiences underneath 'mere doctrinal differences.' I am saying there are common patterns of spiritual experience but we should probe each other’s stories to get at the crucial differences between us. We can expand ourselves and learn something and keep the relationship open to surprises--this is good advice for healthy marriages and friendships too. I hope that is clear.

Jeff: Yes, very clear, I really appreciate your insights and wish you the best of luck with your Foundation. It seems like there is no better time in the world to improve the dialogue between religions.

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