On March 12, 2019, just days before yet another round of violence in our world, a bit of peace happened at York University. It happened because people of four different faith groups decided that unfamiliarity and separation can lead to fear and further isolation. This gathering of people believed there had to be a better way.
So on a cold but sunny late afternoon, folks with different belief systems and different cultural experiences gathered at the et. al. Cafe at York University. The evening was planned by the Intercultural Dialogue Institute, Hillel at York, Hindu Students at York, and Logos Christian Community. It started with plenty of food and opportunity for conversation. There was a little mingling of the groups, but people tended to stay with people they knew.
The program for the evening had each group presenting some music that was representative, in some way, of their culture. Windows of understanding were slowly being opened. People were encouraged to continue eating and drinking coffee and tea. The atmosphere was relaxed and inviting.
Then came the time for discussion, each person present was invited to a table with people they did not know. Fear may have gripped a few at that moment, but organizers quickly helped people find a spot and get to know some new friends. There were envelopes with questions on the tables to spark discussion and that spark was all that was needed. Soon everyone was engaged in free flowing conversation.
Some of the questions were simple. They helped everyone understand each other better. People were surprised by the similarities and respectful of the differences. Participants were also allowed to ask difficult questions; things that they may have wondered but never had the opportunity to ask. There was laughter; there was appreciation; there was understanding. Peace happened.
In the end, there was an acknowledgement that all of us could very well have been in this cafe on this day or any other day, and we would never have said a word to each other. There was a recognition that we inhabit the same spaces at York on a regular basis. But we also were aware of the fact that for the most part we stay separate. It took initiative to get to the cafe. Desire to experience something different was needed.
Participants were glad that they came. Instead of the fear and isolation that grips much of the world, people experienced peace and friendship. In fact, they had to be encouraged to leave, so the cafe could close. There was agreement that this kind of thing takes effort, but it seemed that the effort was well worth the time and energy.