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Evoking Trust, Placing Trust
As a preview to Mitch Albom‘s GILD presentation on Trusted Influence, he has provided us with excerpts from his latest book, Have a Little Faith. Here is the second of three excerpts to help understand the message of this High Impact Leadership Model competency – The capability of evoking trust from others and placing trust in others to enable them to succeed.
From the jacket cover: “Have a Little Faith is a book about a life’s purpose; about losing belief and finding it again; about the divine spark inside us all. It is one man’s journey, but it is everyone’s story.”
Soon we had tumbled into a most fundamental debate. How can different religions coexist? If one faith believes one thing, and another believes something else, how can they both be correct? And does one religion have the right—or even the obligation—to try to convert the other?
The Reb had been living with these issues all of his professional life. “In the early 1950s,” he recalled, “our congregation’s kids used to wrap their Jewish books in brown paper before they got on the bus. Remember, to many around here, we were the first Jewish people they had ever seen.”
Did that make for some strange moments?
He chuckled. “Oh, yes. I remember one time a congregant came to me all upset, because her son, the only Jewish boy in his class, had been cast in the school’s Christmas play. And they cast him as Jesus.
“So I went to the teacher. I explained the dilemma. And she said, ‘But that’s why we chose him, Rabbi. Because Jesus was a Jew!’ ”
I remembered similar incidents. In elementary school, I was left out of the big, colorful Christmas productions of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or “Jingle Bells.” Instead, I had to join the school’s few other Jewish kids onstage, as we sang the Hanukah song, “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, I Made It Out of Clay.” We held hands and moved in a circle, imitating a spinning top. No props. No costumes. At the end of the song, we all fell down.
I swear I saw some gentile parents hiding their laughter.
Is there any winning a religious argument? Whose God is better than whose? Who got the Bible right or wrong? I preferred figures like Rajchandra, the Indian poet who influenced Gandhi by teaching that no religion was superior because they all brought people closer to God; or Gandhi himself, who would break a fast with Hindu prayers, Muslim quotations, or a Christian hymn.
Over the years, the Reb had lived his beliefs, but never tried to convert anyone to them. As a general rule, Judaism does not seek converts. In fact, the tradition is to first discourage them, emphasizing the difficulties and suffering the religion has endured.
This is not the case with all religions. Throughout history, countless millions have been slaughtered for failing to convert, to accept another god, or to denounce their own beliefs. Rabbi Akiva, the famous second-century scholar, was tortured to death by the Romans for refusing to give up his religious study. As they raked his flesh with iron combs, he whispered his final words on earth, “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” He died with the word “one” on his lips.
That prayer—and the word “one”—were integral to the Reb’s beliefs. One, as in the singular God. One, as in the Lord’s creation, Adam.
“Ask yourself, ‘Why did God create but one man?’ ” the Reb said, wagging a finger. “Why, if he meant for there to be faiths bickering with each other, didn’t he create that from the start? He created trees, right? Not one tree, countless trees. Why not the same with man?
“Because we are all from that one man—and all from that one God. That’s the message.”
Then why, I asked, is the world so fractured?
“Well, you can look at it this way. Would you want the world to all look alike? No. The genius of life is its variety.
“Even in our own faith, we have questions and answers, interpretations, debates. In Christianity, in Catholicism, in other faiths, the same thing—debates, interpretations. That is the beauty. It’s like being a musician. If you found the note, and you kept hitting that note all the time, you would go nuts. It’s the blending of the different notes that makes the music.”
The music of what?
“Of believing in something bigger than yourself.”
But what if someone from another faith won’t recognize yours? Or wants you dead for it?
“That is not faith. That is hate.” He sighed. “And if you ask me, God sits up there and cries when that happens.”
He coughed, then, as if to reassure me, he smiled. He had full-time help at the house now; his home care workers had included a tall woman from Ghana and a burly Russian man. Now, on weekdays, there was a lovely Hindu woman from Trinidad named Teela. She helped get him dressed and do some light exercises in the morning, fixed his meals, and drove him to the supermarket and synagogue. Sometimes she would play Hindi religious music over her car stereo. The Reb enjoyed it and asked for a translation. When she talked about reincarnation, per her faith, he quizzed her and apologized for not knowing more about Hinduism over the years.
How can you—a cleric—be so open-minded? I asked.
“Look. I know what I believe. It’s in my soul. But I constantly tell our people: you should be convinced of the authenticity of what you have, but you must also be humble enough to say that we don’t know everything. And since we don’t know everything, we must accept that another person may believe something else.”
“I’m not being original here, Mitch. Most religions teach us to love our neighbor.”
I thought about how much I admired him at that moment. How he never, even in private, even in old age, tried to bully another belief, or bad-mouth someone else’s devotion. And I realized I had been a bit of a coward on this whole faith thing. I should have been more proud, less intimidated. I shouldn’t have bitten my tongue. If the only thing wrong with Moses is that he’s not yours; if the only thing wrong with Jesus is that he’s not yours; if the only thing wrong with mosques, Lent, chanting, Mecca, Buddha, confession, or reincarnation is that they’re not yours—well, maybe the problem is you.
One more question? I asked the Reb.
When someone from another faith says, “God bless you,” what do you say?
“I say, ‘Thank you, and God bless you, too.’ ”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
I went to answer and realized I had no answer. No answer at all.
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