I think that one of the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned from the planning sessions for the What IF? Speak-In and the event itself is that sometimes it’s the little things that count the most. Between the frustrations of generating interest and finding a suitable venue, I found myself still smiling. My planning team was made up of interfaith ninjas – spreading our message so subtly that people didn’t know what had hit them. Adam prowled the Undergraduate Library and slipped What IF stickers into sleeping students’ backpacks or under their arms as they diligently worked on homework. Aditi infiltrated the residence halls, catching people on their way to and from class. Laisa and Katie handed out information on the Quad during the passing period.
Pretty soon What IF starts showing up in unexpected places. A classmate of mine whom I had never spoken to before had a What IF sticker on their laptop. Someone wearing a sticker served Katie pizza on Green Street. My roommate came home from class to tell me about how Aditi presented in her African Literature class. Just these little changes in awareness can help the interfaith movement to flourish. What if dozens or hundreds of people see a cool purple sticker on someone’s laptop or binder? What if people started to think about interfaith as they ate their pizza that day? What if my roommate becomes interested in interfaith as more than just something Emily seems to spend time doing?
When people began to filter in for the Speak-In, I was terrified. I wanted everyone to leave with a great sense of excitement for interfaith, Better Together and ending hunger in our community. Once we got started though, I found there wasn’t anything to worry about. As we split into small groups for dialogue and brainstorming, I could feel the energy in the room rising. Ideas were born, discussed and written down to share with the other groups. Each group began to make the trek to the far wall where our empty What IF mural hung. Stickers and tape were used to bring all our ideas together – many of them similar.
As people left with all the ideas churning in their heads, I only got a chance to talk to a few, but it was like a light had been turned on for them. A friend, Anne, came up to me to pepper me with the questions, “Why haven’t you pressured me more to come to these events? Why didn’t I bring all my friends from the Social Work Department? Why wasn’t I involved earlier?! When can I start?” For someone who had never attended an interfaith-related event before, it was an amazing transformation. To think that her reason for attending was because she didn’t want to write a paper!
No, we didn’t have hundreds of people turn out for our event, but I’ve learned that to even have affected only one person, like Anne, is a great triumph. If each person who attended tells a friend, who tells another friend, the group of dedicated interfaith leaders will continue to expand and grow. All those little things that I used to discount as unimportant are now coming together to form the bigger picture – a beautiful mosaic of fresh ideas, cooperation and inspiring relationships.
Emily Ansusinha, Interfaith in Action President