Face to Face Reflections and a Request!

21 February 2024
golden rule

This blog was written by Felipe Zurita, Chair of the URI North America Leadership Council.

I love thinking about the different ways I can see the Golden Rule in action in everyday things that we don’t give a second thought to.

 Not crossing the street when I’m stopped at a red light is an example. I won’t cross the street because I was taught that crossing the street on a red light goes against the law, but also, I know that I run a bigger risk to being run over and get hurt or even die, than if I stay in my spot until the light goes green. Applying the Golden Rule to this simple act: “Treat others as I want to be treated,” gives me the perspective that same way I don’t want to be hurt by crossing with a red light, there are other people that are thinking the same. We are both doing what we would like the other to do, so that when I or they have a green light, we can safely cross the street, knowing the other person will obey the law and not cross, no matter how urgent or impatient they may be with that red light.

 The interfaith movement is rich beyond measure when it comes to the Golden Rule, its practice, and representation. I feel like because it’s so basic, sometimes we forget about it or simply think that its power and approach is too simplistic, but we can go as deep as atoms to see how this realm is in harmony with the Golden Rule.

For those that don’t know me, my name is Felipe Zurita, and I’m part of the URI North American Leadership Council. This past week the Leadership Council gathered in Omaha, Nebraska, at the beautiful Tri-Faith Initiative campus, where we held planning sessions and conversations all weekend long. It is an honor to serve URI in this capacity with the incredible people that make up the Leadership Council.

This weekend was nothing short of growth, love, education, and understanding for us as the Leadership Council of the North American Region of URI. I’m truly grateful for the inspiration I felt this weekend.

We all have felt and seen how the conflict in Gaza-Israel is affecting the world. How it’s affecting the way we refer to each other, what side are we on, what or who are we endorsing, etc.

I can tell how this event more than most other conflicts going on in the planet (33 wars, last I checked) lots of stressed to organizations like ours, where we are sharing the space with multiple faiths and spiritual practices, it can be hard to navigate conversations around Israel, Palestine, and the genocide we are watching unfold in front of our eyes.

Full disclosure: I work in the marketing and social media world. I tend to see upticks of engagement, violence, what news make it to people’s feeds, as well as collective emotions expressed by all in different platforms. I don’t think I have felt this much anxiety reading and seeing the number of conflicts popping left and right, misinformation, hatred, lack of accountability, and bullying, even between friends and co-workers.

It feels like we all forgot about the Golden Rule and can’t fathom putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes to understand their experience, emotions, and opinions. It feels like everyone is suffering from compassion/empathy fatigue and is lacking the patience to think and feel before we speak and act.
Between plans, meals, jokes, and conversations, later on that Sunday afternoon, we were discussing the importance of the spaces that URI North America has held virtually for incredible conversations and moments to happen, like the “Gender, Sexuality, and Faith” panel we hosted on October 11. (Link)

We started talking about hosting spaces in real life at educational establishments, talking about hosting conversations on the genocide currently being experienced by the Uyghurs, conflicts going on in Sudan, South America, Armenia, Israel and Gaza, etc. As soon as Israel and Gaza conversation happened, the conversation took a turn to show that there were different opinions held by the different members of the Leadership Council. Emotions were high, especially considering some of us had close connections with people living in Israel, and others with people that live in Gaza.

Our planning stopped.

We knew we had to talk this through. How is it possible that we are talking about hosting these safe spaces, yet we, the leadership council, couldn’t contain the consequences of having the Israel-Gaza conversation?

Thanks to the love, care, respect, and understanding of the Golden Rule, plus incredible lessons in oppression and identity-based violence by a special member of the LC, there were some conclusions that were clear to me and that I’m fully endorsing since that moment:

  • I stand for Liberation: No matter who you are, where you are. I will always advocate for freedom.
  • I stand for Non-Violence: No matter what, I know violence brings more violence, which brings trauma, which can become collective and ancestral. I’m not causing that.
  • I stand with the oppressed:
  •   “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” ― Nelson Mandela
  • “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” –Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • I will do everything in my power to bring different voices and experiences to this LC so that more conversations like the one we had that Sunday afternoon happen more often. (HERE’S A FAVOR I’M ASKING: If you or someone you know would like to participate in the Leadership Council, I invite you to reach out to me!! It is crucial to have voices of DIVERSE AND UNDER-REPRESENTED communities present in our Leadership Council, so if you are interested, I will be too.) 

It was uncomfortable, it was painful, it was stressful, and very anxiety-inducing to hear the opinions and experiences related to Israel/Palestine, but I’m infinitely grateful for all that, because once we talked it through, that big wall that seemed daunting to climb at the beginning, had crumbled down, and with that, more room was given to my takeaways mentioned previously.

Also, important to make sure that people understand that standing with the people of Palestine does not mean you wish death upon the Israeli Government, or if I support a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip I’m not saying I hate my Jewish siblings.

But I will be clear in my desire for the people of Palestine to see a brighter, future of FREEDOM.

I will be clear about letting people know that even if you’ve killed my family, I won’t be looking to kill and take vengeance on you and yours because that’s not the solution.

As we’ve been learning at URI, violence is a disease, and just like most diseases, it can be treated and cured. I won’t justify any kind of violence because violence will only lead me to more violence, trauma, hate, and unsafety.

 I invite everyone at URI North America to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world. I invite you to share your thoughts, respectfully, lovingly, with accountability, and a desire to learn more and be taught if needs be.

 Let’s check our egos when feeling offended or attacked.

 Interfaith work is cute and fun when we tell each other what we believe or what we do in our holidays, AND it can also be a powerful movement to breach across differences. To acknowledge that religion from and for different groups can claim the same story, the same land of origin, a similar god, yet not the same people. 

If you’ve been frustrated with that thought, I invite you to watch this TED talk by Karen Armstrong, founder of the Charter for Compassion, on Man and Religion. (Link)

I also want to invite anyone to have these conversations with your friends and family. I invite you to listen to less privileged voices. Listen to people that have suffered prosecution for being themselves. Listen to descendants of slaves, descendants of survivors of genocides or other global crises, our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color) siblings that experience oppression in most spaces even to this day.

 My heart and intentions go to everyone suffering in this world.

The Jewish Israeli mother waiting for her kidnapped child to come back to her arms.

The Muslim Palestinian mother that lost her children during this last conflict or through the history of Gaza.

The Armenian Grandmothers that are seeing now their grandchildren become displaced.

The Venezuelans that have fled their home country due to government corruption and violence. The Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

The Syrian refuges scattered across Europe.

The asylum seekers fighting for their lives with all they got by leaving everything to start new and safe somewhere else.

The list goes on, and on, and on. And it’s hard to think on taking any more of this violence, yet here we are seeing more and more coming out daily.

I need you to remember to use the Golden Rule more. I need you to think on how do you want our world to be from now on. It feels daunting, almost impossible, but I believe that we can be more conscious of each other and love one another, as we see ourselves in each other’s eyes, understanding, embracing, and being the oneness I believe we are. 

2024 is looking incredible for URI North American Cooperation Circles. I want to extend my arms to each one of you members of CC’s across the US and Canada, as well to our individual members, and give you a big hug (If you like hugs!) I hope to talk to every CC this coming year, infuse more energy to our region and work by communicating more and hosting more events and things to keep us connected, happy, and empowered knowing our efforts can and are creating positive changes in your communities and this world.