One of the biggest surprises and joys in my sixties is that I decided to volunteer as an education advisor for the Charter For Compassion. I had signed the Charter for Compassion declaration several years ago confirming my support for all that the charter stands for and does. It was wonderful to affirm a document that expressed so deeply all that I am about at my core. For a long time thereafter I would receive their emails in my inbox. I remember always saying to myself, “Someday I will get involved in the great things the Charter does.”
To us a partnership as the ‘coming together of two or more entities to further the causes of social harmony and bridge-building.’ Below you will find a list of possible partnership opportunities including education, good causes, workshops and conferences, equal exchanges, and more. Naturally, our list represents the limits of our creativity and we are open to exploring all other possibilities that are brought to our attention.
Do You Share Our Vision?
Our vision statement is: We envision a world where people have good access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge building across divides. If you share our vision and want to live in a world where more people are well equipped to bridge gaps and promote harmony, then we want to find a way to work with you.
Partnering for Co-Human Causes
If you are gathering people and organizations to work for co-human causes we are all ears. We love being a part of the synergy that happens when many forces come together for an altruistic reason like the rays of the sun through the lens of a magnifying glass to ignite a blaze of awareness. We can use our social media platforms, blog, and personal connections to help spread the message.
Partnering for Education
Our programs contain some of the best ideas and strategies for bridge-building and social harmony available today. We are happy to partner with anyone who wants to offer them to their group. Below are a couple of examples.
What is in a man’s heart? Men are likely the only ones who truly know. Normally, they protect what’s at their very core from other men and perhaps the women and partners in life. Fear of being vulnerable and shame keep them from connecting with other men, yet it is only when we men open our hearts that these questions get answered.
When Can Men Put Down Their Swords and Shields?
The emphasis over the past fifty years in the U.S. and a few other countries has been on raising the consciousness around women, addressing women’s issues, validating their rightful place in the world and the sacredness of the divine feminine. To say this work is long overdue and that we have a long way to go would certainly be an understatement.
But what about men? When and how do men get the opportunity to put down their swords and shields to go inward to heal themselves? What about the divine masculine and what about male spirituality?
Interfaith is about creating harmony between people who profess to different faiths and ideologies. Interspirituality is an exploration of mystical traditions and experiences. Interfaith is for everyone. Interspirituality is not. Allow me to explain.
The Need to Feel Safe
Most people want to live in a peaceful society. They want to be able to go about their business without feeling marginalized, being discriminated against, or having to stay alert because of threats of violence.
However, because we live in a pluralistic and diverse society where people have different views and ideologies, there are those among us who do not feel that way. Because this need to feel safe is always present, it is important for all groups to get to know each other, to be around each other, to feel safe in each other’s presence—to inter-mingle.
My experience with interfaith events over the past few years has been exactly this. People of all faiths and different backgrounds come together, not to agree on ideologies or theologies, but rather to appreciate each other’s humanity. After each event, I have walked away with a feeling of calm and a certain degree of elation because I have witnessed cordial personal interactions in a larger societal context that feels much more divisive.
Working Towards a Peaceful Society
Interfaith should be for everyone* who wants to work towards a more peaceful society. As the name implies, interfaith should include all faiths, but we also need to include those who stand outside of organized religion, including humanists, secularists, those who prefer to label themselves spiritual-but-nonreligious, and everyone in between.
Does religion equal division? It is a seemingly easy question to answer. From observing the news on any given day, most people would answer yes, religion does divide. Any number of conflicts around the world can be attributed to religious differences and modern political rhetoric is using religion to pit people against each other.
The same can be said when we look back at history. Religious differences seem to be at the root of many conflicts. The dividing aspects are easy to amplify. “I believe this, you believe that and that is why we are different. In fact, your beliefs so offend me that I am willing to take up arms against you.”
Those who place religion at the center of most conflicts use this rhetoric.
Religion Itself May Not Be the Cause
Comparative religion author, Huston Smith, maintained the position that most wars have been fought over lands and resources, been mired in tribal history (as in, “your tribe did this to my tribe many years ago, that is why we fight”), or been instigated by power hungry individuals who used religion to fan the flames of war. In short, divisive people cause division with divisive rhetoric and actions, sometimes under the guise of religion.
Can religious division be explained away like that? It’s probably too simplistic, even if there is truth to it. Religion can’t be exempt when it comes to divisiveness.
Faith Reflected in Behavior
However, when we look at the other side of the ledger, we see that religion has the potential to extract the very finest from within people and be the cause for harmony. There are religious people of all faiths who place tremendous emphasis on kindness and compassion.
Isn’t that the hallmark of true religion, practicing your faith until it shows in your behavior? In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James notes that:
We use the term ‘co-human harmony’ a lot here at Harmony Interfaith Initiative. It’s the name of our flagship program and the title of an upcoming book that we are publishing in January 2019 with Flaming Leaf Press. To us, it’s an important term with vital connotations. It deserves a concise definition.
Understanding the difference between the human and ideological personas is one of the central ideas we work with here at the initiative. Each human being is a blend of both.
The human persona consists of everything that human beings share. We are all born, we die, we breathe, we eat, we sleep, we feel, we suffer, we laugh… the list goes on and on.
The ideological persona consists of values and beliefs that cannot be independently proven or disproven. Every –ism, be it political or religious, falls into this category.
The term ‘co-human’ relates to the human persona. It’s an expression of our shared humanity. Using the term helps shine a brighter light on the things we have in common.
Harmony is the coming together of many disparate notes to form a pleasing whole. Harmony exists on a spectrum. A garage band creates one type of harmony, a barbershop quintet another, and so on. Harmony does not have to sound like the Vienna Boys Choir to be pleasing.
Everyone is a critic. It’s easy to look around, find the things we disagree with or don’t like and then let loose. With the number of social media outlets and blogs available, it’s never been easier.
And yet, few ever stop and think about what the purpose of a critique is. Is it to let everyone know about a particular point of view that is opposite to another person’s point of view? Is it a dog whistle that signals to a group of likeminded people? Is it a way to show superiority by means of demeaning others? Or is a critique the start of a constructive conversation about what can be done better?
Opposition, dog whistling and demeaning need no further examination as they speak for themselves. However, if a critique is meant to be constructive, it must meet certain criteria.
Are all faith practices alike? The answer to that question is Yes…and No. Dodging the question, you ask… not really. I have spent the better part of my life questioning and searching, and the last ten years in intense research to discover that answer.
Didn't Know How Much I Didn't Know
In the process of my research for my books, I learned a very valuable thing: I did not know how much I did not know! We’ve all been taught things by family, friends, spiritual leaders…and many times, because we respect that person, we accept those statements as Truth without question.
But what we don’t realize is that sometimes those people have been unknowingly mislead themselves. Not in a purposeful or vindictive way...it just happens. We live, interact, hear and discuss things casually and pass on our views that have been formed over time by our associations and life experiences. Unfortunately, misinformation can inadvertently be spread and multiplied by this totally innocent approach to “truth.”
As I was researching, I realized in a very profound way that many things I had heard or been taught were NOT true. I also learned through many long hours of follow-through, that many things written on the “all knowing” Internet were NOT true.
Watch the Life They Lead
If you really want to know what others believe, go to their main website, talk to real people who live that faith practice, and most importantly, watch what kind of example they lead with.
While I was writing this week’s newsletter, I realized that the forces of division had not taken a summer break this year. While I was entertaining my kids during our eighth consecutive daddy-summer-camp, the steady drumbeat of anger, fear, and contempt in public discourse seemed to grow louder—if that’s even possible.
Everyone Thinks They Are On the Right Side of History
As emotions have gotten hotter, everyone seems to assume that they are on the right side of history, that their ideological position is the only one that is correct and that everyone else is mistaken. People stand on the opposite sides of widening chasms in both religion and politics and shout: “They started it! They are wrong!”
Who Will Listen to the Bridge Builders?
In this type of atmosphere, people who suggest that we should build bridges and work towards harmony are often branded as delusional. “Peace is not in sight,” they say. “You have to fight for your right. Stay angry and outraged!”
It's a sad fact that peacemakers have historically been laughed at, scorned and shouted down. Fortunately for us, history is on the side of those who long for a state of civil discourse. Peace has prevailed more often than not… but it hasn’t come out of nowhere. Peace is usually the result of tireless work by those who are committed to it.
Humans are tribal beings. According to the social sciences, we have the ability to bond with approximately one to two hundred people. However, because of increased population and the reach of social media, the concept of the tribe has expanded.
Here is a partial list of different kinds of tribes that exist in our society in no particular order.
What do you do when someone spouts anger at you, drenches you in hate or shows utter contempt for everything you stand for? The instinctive response is to fight back, to meet fire with fire. But what is the spiritual response to the same situation? Martin Luther King Jr. echoed the Nazarene when he said: "Hate can never drive out hate, only love can do that."
Meeting hate with hate is natural but it leads to an escalation that is impossible to stop. Hate breeds hate breeds hate breeds hate.
Good People Giving Into Instinct
In the past few years, I have seen good people give into the instinct of anger over and over again. It’s a fine line that is easy to cross. Yes, it is true that resisting hateful, bigoted rhetoric is important, but once resistance turns into name-calling, once offense turns into spiteful indignation, once the outrage becomes the focal point rather than a temporary feeling, then the line between a loving and respectful response and an instinctive hateful response has been crossed.
I’ve seen good people, loving people, altruistic people cross this line. Heck, I’ve crossed the line in my mind more than once in the past couple of years—but I’ve refused to act on it publicly.
“They started it,” some may respond. That may be true. But a tit for tat reaction will only escalate tensions. If we want to deescalate the situation, a better response is needed.
Even though we play different instruments and have different character traits, the human orchestra can create a harmonious melody if we do the following.
1. Stop the Noise
The first step towards a harmonious melody is to stop the noise. If a few people are incessantly banging their drums, scratching their strings, yammering loudly, or playing their own fortissimo tunes without regards to their surroundings, the best intentions of the people around them will not matter.
In the same way, for the human orchestra to generate a melody, we must reduce violent actions and bombastic rhetoric. When things quiet down, there is a potential for something better to emerge.
2. Accept All Instruments
An orchestra wouldn’t be able to create a variety of melodies if everyone played either the fiddle or the trumpet. Different instruments are needed to contrast and complement each other. The human race, with all its different cultures, theologies and ideologies, has potential to do the same.
The time, when diversity was a mere ideology, has long passed. In the modern era, diversity is a reality. People of all colors, faiths, and creeds are living side-by-side in societies all across the world—nowhere more so than here in the USA.
People who rail against diversity as an ideology are behind the times. They have not yet accepted the reality of what has happened. Some are trying to turn back the tide, but the tide will not turn. Diversity is here to stay.
The Only Question Is...
The only question we are faced with is whether or not we are going to make this new reality work for all of us. In some areas of the world, communities have adapted, but others are still struggling.
If people have been brought up to believe that diversity is an ideology, the resistance is understandable. They believe that they are preserving their way of life by railing against the changes. “Why can’t it be like it’s always been?” they ask.
In an age of pluralism and diversity, this is difficult to say, but, by my estimates, every celebration of diversity creates subtle divisions. Here is my thinking. When I acknowledge that you come from a different culture, a different background, and a different race and we celebrate that then divisions remain. Every time I see you I am reminded of how different we are.
We could do it differently. We could honor each other’s culture, background, and race, but then move on to explore and celebrate similarities. Afterwards, parallels would remain. Every time we’d see each other, we’d be reminded of our likenesses.
What Color Are the Apples?
For example, when you saw the picture that accompanies this column, what did you notice first, the fact that all the fruits were apples or that one apple was in color and the others were grey?
How many times have you been having a conversation about your values or beliefs—political, theological, spiritual, nutritional—and been met with absolute statements? People say things like: “The truth of the matter is that…” or “what you don’t know is that…” or “this is that way…”
Telling people how things are, what the truth is, and what they don’t know, in relation to beliefs and values is extremely unhelpful in a two-sided dialogue.
The fix is simple, yet powerful. All you have to do is qualify statements with the words “what I believe” or “what we believe” or “my tradition says” and so on. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a world of difference. Even when you believe that what you are saying is the absolute truth, you are not betraying your belief by stating that, in fact, it is a belief. Rather, you are opening yourself up to dialogue.
If you tell me what you believe, then I can respond by telling you what I believe. But if you tell me how things are, then the probability of the dialogue turning into an argument increases.
Bridge Building and Social Harmony
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We envision a world where people have access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge building across divides.
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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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