I want to start by sincerely wishing all my Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist friends who celebrated Diwali yesterday a very joyous holiday! For those who may not be familiar with Diwali, it is a holiday celebrated by more than a billion people around the world. It is called the “Festival of Lights” and celebrates the victory of light over darkness, of good over evil.
According to Britannica, “During the festival, diyas are lit and placed in rows along the parapets of temples and houses and set adrift on rivers and streams. Homes are decorated, and floors inside and out are covered with rangoli, consisting of elaborate designs made of colored rice, sand, or flower petals. The doors and windows of houses are kept open in the hope that Lakshmi (Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune) will find her way inside and bless the residents with wealth and success.”
I first started to develop a strong interest in studying major world religions more than 20 years ago when I had the opportunity to attend one of the World Economic Forums in Davos, Switzerland with more than 2,000 leaders around the world. As part of the Forum, there were a series of panels on multiple issues including global economic and political issues. One of the panels that caught my attention was on the fundamental beliefs of different religions. The panel consisted of very senior global leaders of seven religions. As each religious leader described his or her fundamental beliefs, I was struck by the fact that the great majority of their beliefs were shared by all of the panelists: treating one another with respect, the “golden rule,” and not harming one another. At the conclusion of the panel, I asked several of them my fundamental question: If as human beings we hold many of the same beliefs, why do we focus so much attention on our differences rather than on what we share in common?
The answer I essentially received from everyone on the panel was that most people spend virtually no time understanding the beliefs of others. It was then that I realized that the key is to minimize assumptions and truly understand what each person believes and why they believe it. It was then that I started to repeat my favorite quote from St. Francis almost daily, “I seek to understand before I am understood.”
Given the terrible ongoing crises in the Middle East, Ukraine, and other places around the world, the need for us as a global community to strive for and pray for the triumph of light over darkness, of peace over conflict, is more important than ever. I truly believe if we took the time to understand what each of us believes and why, the world would be a much better place, with potentially less hatred and fewer wars. I realize that this may sound idealistic and optimistic. However, it strikes me as one of the best ways to make progress in a world reeling in pain.