Perceptions speak louder than words
I attended a conference the other day for a Christian entity on a managerial topic. From the beginning of that meeting the leading pastor was welcoming everyone and from his choice of words i could understand that there are also people of other faiths, or people who are not necessarily evangelical. I was very impressed because the majority of events, whether intentional or not, seem to exclude others.
At dinner time I sat at a table with some friends, and as typical Palestinians we just sat together and continued talking about our issues and we were not taking much notice of the man sitting at our table. Probably towards the end of our dinner, someone bothered to excuse our behavior to the man and said “sorry if we seem exclusive but we are all friends and got caught up in the topic. Where are you from?” the man said “My name is Khaled Name Name LongerName, and i am from Hebron.” He said he was a Muslim, and works for a muslim organization there. We were all very friendly, and each one introduced themselves graciously I thought. We were so welcoming, I was very impressed we were keeping with the conference spirit. How wonderful!
I sat closest to Khaled so we continued a conversation between us and he was telling me this was his first time to hear a direct ‘lesson’ from Christians. He said it was a different experience to hear from Christians first hand rather than hearing a retelling. His wife is from Bethlehem, and he himself graduated from Beir Zeit University. Then we talked about a big elephant in the room - the relationships between Muslims and Christians. He thought highly of that relationship in Bethlehem and saw Christians and Muslims as one Palestinian group who refuse to play the religion card (as a divider).
I was conflicted whether to tell him that this is not what Christians i know think. Most of my Christian friends in Bethlehem area seems to be threatened by the Muslim Majority. They keep to themselves, and have few personal relationships with Muslims. Most relationships are either to convert Muslims to become Christians or business oriented. But i didn’t want to blow his bubble. And to be honest I liked his perspective on the relationship.
Then he asked me about the Muslim Christian relations in my city, and i told him that there is much tension, and whenever there are stressors (like land, elections, mixed marriages or parking), everyone feels the tension rise to the surface and we cling to our religious groups. I was trying to be honest with him, and acknowledge that the relationship needs some improvement.
My friends then excused themselves, and although i enjoyed talking to Khaled, i didn’t see it fitting to stay with him alone at an empty table. I was trying to be culturally appropriate so, i excused myself as well.
When i regrouped with my friends we talked about Khaled. “This man was Muslim, and from Hebron? what is he doing here?” they felt that he was intruding on their turf. And they thought his job was very religious and therefore, his attendance was suspicious.
We were all there, and communicating with one another, but we didn’t share the same perceptions. This makes me wonder what Khaled’s perception to self would be. Sometimes in our efforts to communicate, we seem to have more perceptions than what actually seems.