A roll of the eyes. A light chuckle. A shrug of the shoulders. A shake of the head. Condescension. Nothing bothers me more than condescension. Drives me crazy. “Fingernails on a chalkboard”, “screaming baby on an airplane”, “aluminum on my teeth” crazy. And yet every now and then condescension is precisely what I encounter in my interfaith work. Upon explaining to someone my work with Project Interfaith I get a look in response which basically says, “Bless your heart, you simple, misguided man, for undertaking such unimportant work. After all, my religion is the right religion. All others are a waste of time and not to be taken seriously.” That’s right. One look says all of that. DRIVES. ME. BATTY.
And I’d be lying if I said these encounters don’t affect me because they do. That I just shrug them off, because I don’t. That they just roll off of my back, because they don’t budge. At least not for a while anyway. I recently had such an encounter that bothered me for a good 3 days. Every time I thought about that condescending response to my work I became angry all over again. All the things I shoulda coulda woulda said in response came to the forefront of my mind. Internal questions ran rampant. Who are these people? How can they respond so flippantly to this important work? Who do they think they are to act this way? Why, if I ever acted that way….have I ever acted that way?
I have. Oh man! I had crafted such a beautiful soap box made of indignation and self-righteousness in my mind. Mid-climb to the top of my soap box, it came crashing down beneath me, because I absolutely have reacted with condescension to another’s faith. And what’s more, it was my own. (Insert record scratch and “say what?” here.) See, I’m one of those people who was raised in one faith tradition but is currently not practicing that faith tradition. For reasons of my own, I have decided to step away from that faith. It doesn’t work for me. The “why” is not important in this venue. What is of importance, is that I am guilty of responding with condescension to those individuals who still choose to practice that faith, internally saying, “Oh brother!” when the topic of that faith arises. And this is absolutely wrong of me. Those still practicing this faith are beyond entitled to do so. Just because this faith doesn’t suit me doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t or can’t find their answers there. Here I thought I was so forward thinking with my interfaith work, promoting understanding, relationship, and respect for all beliefs or non-beliefs and yet there was a glaring oversight in my own backyard. How did I not see this?
Upon further introspection, I realized that I rationalized my inappropriate behavior in almost the same manner a person of any certain race would rationalize using a slur associated with that race. “It’s okay, I can say that slur, because I am that race.” “It’s okay, I can roll my eyes at that religion, because I used to practice that religion”. No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. At Project Interfaith, we strive to create a community and world where ALL faiths beliefs and cultures are valued protected and included. And when we say, “all faiths”, we should mean “all faiths”. Even those faiths we may disagree with for our own personal reasons. As far as my once-practiced faith is concerned, it’s time for me to pack away my eye-rolling. Time to put my shoulder-shrugging where it belongs; curbside along with the other garbage. Because the world we are striving to create has no place for it.
Tom Laird is Project Interfaith's Development and Communications Director. Tom holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Benedictine College where he received the Madonna Gamper Award for academic excellence. Tom began working as a volunteer with Project Interfaith in early January of 2009. A desired change of career path into the non-profit world has changed Tom's status from volunteer to intern to staff member. Tom enjoys reading, music, biking (bicycle, not motorcycle), and skiing (snow, not water).