Opening Talk - Networking in URI
Given by Sally Mahé, URI Senior Consultant
Mercy Center, Burlingame CA
There is a gift of this moment – we have the opportunity to be with each other – all of us, from near and far, in one way or another, involved in interfaith peacebuilding. We are local but from different places and cultures – we are differently local! We are about 120 interfaith peacebuilders - from across California, the United States, and the world!
Being a global network has always been an aspiration in URI. I hope that striving to be more of a living, loving network, than a static organization, will always be at the heart of URI.
A story – At the 2000 Charter Signing Ceremony in Pittsburgh, several hundred people engaged for three days in workshops as they began to step into the promise of URI. A huge map of the world was on wall in the main meeting room. Seventy URI member groups, or Cooperation Circles (CCs) were signified by blue circles. We made little “cabins” (with red construction paper) to signify what we imagined would be regional centers/hubs one day.
The map was also meant to include a golden thread that signified the network; that is, the connectivity by which people would give and receive with one another. But a funny thing happened – the golden thread never made it to the map. All we were able to accomplish was getting the map up on the wall, pasting on the CCs and the regional hubs. I carried the golden yarn around in my pocket. I wanted so badly to get it up on the map – but there was no time. It never happened.
Looking back, I see there was meaning in that moment. URI had only just begun. We saw ourselves as an emerging global community that would: deliberate in circles, help each other, make decisions from the bottom up; we would cooperate and collaborate. We were inspired by an image of a cosmic-like web, “Indra’s net.” Indra’s net is an image from a Buddhist sutra that says… “There are golden threads that surround the planet; and, at each intersection of the net there is a jewel whose light lifts and reflects the light in all the other jewels.”
But in 2000, people were just beginning to identify as a connected community. Even more accurately – no golden threads could be put on the map so soon because it wasn’t the Staff and Global Council (GC) of URI that would PUT THEM UP - make the network happen. The GC could prioritize it, staff could create some communications structures, but the reality of a vital, useful network would have to grow as people wanted it, created it and lived it into being.
Fast forward almost 20 years.
Now, we see lots and lots of golden threads. There is so much creative connecting going on… connectivity is spanning the continents. We use email, WhatsApp, Instagram, Zoom – news is spreading – relationships are deepening.
Through the day today, we’ll be sharing what kinds of connections are working best for you in URI and what we can do to make them better.
I want to offer another image/metaphor (one for our ears). Recall how an orchestra sounds when different instruments are tuning up? Each instrument is playing on its own. Cacophony erupts.
Think of ourselves here - imagine all of us are violinists. We are intent on playing the songs we love the most. We want to play the music we have practiced and are committed too. We all begin to play – again cacophony – discord erupts, not harmony.
The possibility we are exploring today is to inquire how “we” (HOW WE USE THE “WE” OF “US”) can form diverse interfaith peacebuilder communities? Knowing that we each play our own “music,” how can we move from cacophony to harmony? How can we use new collective strategies? Can we imagine the beauty of new harmonies made by more intentional kinds of interactions?
Imagine we are one big violin section - we each have our own focus and skills, and we also get together. We somehow learn how to play more collective songs – bigger songs, a more universal song, songs that are more stunning than we have heard before. This is a VISION of a vital network.
We know that internet connections open amazing potential. For example, the internet allows us to mobilize for similar actions (like International Day of Peace, Women’s Day, and Golden Rule Day). It allows us be effective emergency responders as disasters strike.
But something more happens too, internet connection opens a door for us to experience the reality of an invisible inner net – we give and receive with others in many ways. We meet one another, often for the first time - we begin to trust new relationships - we become allies - we feel renewable joy that connects us deeply as human beings.
Indra’s net, a world laced together with a golden-threaded net, was once only a vision for URI; now, our ability to be networkers and learn to live with a network mindset, heart set and skills set, is happening!
Cooperation used to be considered a good practice... now cooperation is for survival.
One thing is clear; our days of working in isolation are over.
I could not be more humbled, awed and excited that all of us get to be here today – enjoying one another and building an amazing URI network. Thank you so much for being here.
Golden thread activity:
Pass around a basket filled with pieces of golden string. Each participant takes a piece.
Tie a golden thread – on a person you meet for first time and appreciate. Tell them why you appreciate meeting them as you tie the golden thread on their wrist.
Tie a golden thread – on a person who gave you an idea or inspiration that you are grateful for. Share what it is as you tie on the thread.