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NYC mosque: Rising to the challenge of dialogue

Sylvia Lafair
Sylvia Lafair, Ph.D., author of the award winning book, "Don't Bring It to Work," is President of CEO, Creative Energy Options, Inc., a global consulting company focused on improving workplace relationships through leadership.


Here are two scenarios to ponder: In scene No. 1 a house of worship is to be built several blocks from an area where two buildings were blown away at the hands of religious zealots. There are protests and angry rhetoric, replete with photos of loved ones once lost in the twisted ruins of cement and steel. The leaders who have the finances and determination to build their religious structure and their followers come forward. After days of talking and listening to the pain of the other side they decide to put their holy building elsewhere, just far enough away that it would not cast a shadow on the pain of the past.

In scene No. 2 those who now live with the memories of what could have been if their husbands, wives, children, siblings, neighbors, had not vanished on that fateful morning i come forward and talk and listen to those who wish to have the religious freedom to build a structure wherever they please in this "land of the free, home of the brave." They reach out their hands in a symbol of friendship and put their blessings on the plan to build the building right here, right now.

Stop for a moment to take your personal emotional temperature. What was your reaction to these fictitious scenes? Did they make you angry, give you hope, sound impossible? Did you think it more important to seek revenge? Were you frightened by having those seen as different too close, on your territory?

I am not asking you to vote, tweet about this, or give a comment on Facebook. All you are asked to do is observe your reactions.

When you observe, move just slightly above the fray and, in this case, see the destruction of the twin towers and the building of a mosque as metaphors, it provokes the question: What is a leader to do; what are we all to do? The answer is simple and complex; partly because of the warp speed nature of our times. It seems so much easier to live with strong points of view as to what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is bad. Strong, quick points of view sell well.

Give 'em a sound bite, a quick response, something glib and clever, something that can go on a bumper sticker or a mug, just give a definitive answer and let's all move on.

Except this mosque thing is big. It is an opportunity for a different kind of dialogue. It is not about New York, Muslims, religious freedom, power, and it is not about taking sides. It is about talking and listening. It is about our common future, about finding the way out of the relationship fears and anxieties we see all around us.

Leaders, as visionaries, do best when they give others time to think through a situation. When they cast their vote too soon, they stop the tides of dialogue, and dialogue is what is sorely needed. We all tend to put our "for or against" stakes in the ground and stand by them, sadly, and too often, to the death.

I certainly can understand why President Obama took the position he did. It reflects the original vision of our country as land of the free. Freedom is noble; it is a pulsating beat in the heart and soul of every human being. Yet, we have limited understanding of and tools for accessing that freedom.

Leadership is needed, not in defending principles, rather in guiding us to explore what freedom looks like, sounds like, and tastes like. It is so much more than a song or a salute. We have the opportunity to redefine freedom now and for the future. We can stand on the shoulders of the past and take all the newest understanding of neuropsychology and technology, and create a revolution that befits this century; now that we truly know we are all connected and no one wins unless we all do.

The behavior patterns that have gotten us to this point will not guide us into the future. The way OUT is to observe, understand, and transform our old, ingrained behavior patterns into their more mature, positive opposites.

Leaders need to encourage each and every one of us to search for meaning, personal empowerment, community, identity, wholeness. This is no task for the faint hearted, and it works best if we all participate. The shadow side of this is what we are living with now, what the mosque debate signifies; alienation, materialism, fragmentation, manipulation, polarization.

How can we get past the roadblocks that stand in the way of a more unified culture? In "Don't Bring It to Work" patterns of behavior we learned in our original organization, the family, are discussed. These are the patterns we bring to our next organization, the school, and then into our work organization and into our communities. When stress hits the hot button we all tend to revert to these patterns that were there for our security and survival as children. We become avoiders, rebels, martyrs, victims, pleasers, and the like.

However, we are no longer three or seven or thirteen and yet, these patterns resist change because deep inside they are familiar and seem safe. It is these ingrained patterns that are being played out around the mosque issue. With some elbow grease, all patterns can be transformed to their healthy opposites; we can become initiators, community builders, integrators, explorers, truth tellers, and the like.

If leaders can help people be exhilarated by the opportunities of transformational change rather than fearful of them, a critical mass can find the way OUT: observe, understand and transform patterns and ride the waves of change with more skill and tolerance than in the past.

This is the creative work of today, for all leaders and on some level, we are all leaders. It's about you, it's about me, and it's about time.

By Sylvia Lafair

 |  September 1, 2010; 12:11 PM ET |  Category:  Communication , Culture , Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I can't help but laugh at both sides. Though, I'm not quite sure who's more foolish, the American people who oppose the idea of allowing innocent American citizens build a place of worship; or, the administration of that Mosque for politically forcing a mosque on a community where the majority of the residents don't welcome it -- an action that is far from being religiously-acceptable in Islam.

That which is advisable is that the Imam of that Mosque should seek council with the senior scholars who specialize in political relations such as the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abul 'Azeez Aal Al-Shaikh (or other than him from the senior scholars), rather than stomp his feet, make a giant stink, and turn the local community against him, everyone in that community, and the general masses away from Islam.

Posted by: iPowered | September 2, 2010 2:04 PM

I can't help but laugh at both sides. Though, I'm not quite sure who's more foolish, the American people who oppose the idea of allowing innocent American citizens build a place of worship; or, the administration of that Mosque for politically forcing a mosque on a community where the majority of the residents don't welcome it -- an action that is far from being religiously-acceptable in Islam.

That which is advisable is that the Imam of that Mosque should seek council with the senior scholars who specialize in political relations such as the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abul 'Azeez Aal Al-Shaikh (or other than him from the senior scholars), rather than stomp his feet, make a giant stink, and turn the local community against him, everyone in that community, and general masses away from Islam.

Posted by: iPowered | September 2, 2010 1:36 PM

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