Our work here at Harmony Interfaith Initiative has slowed down considerably after the pandemic broke out. The same is true about other interfaith organizations that work towards bettering relationships through face-to-face meetings.
That being said, we know that harmony begins within. Maybe this is the perfect time to work on the individual aspect of social harmony? If you are so inclined, here are seven things that you can do.
A strong emotional attraction has many benefits. Austere adherence to everything from dietary rules to moral principles has been shown to deliver positive results. Strong emotions can fire people up and make the ‘e’ in emotion stand for energy in motion. Groups of people, who have centered their passions on a single mission, are nearly unstoppable. Unwavering beliefs can move mountains. There is a reason why the magnetic pull of emotional attraction has created so many impassioned believers over the millennia.
Five Moderating Behaviors
However, for the sake of social harmony, people need to keep their love for one thing from turning into hate for another (see the attraction-repulsion principle).
That is where moderating behaviors come in.
They are not meant to moderate attraction or reduce belief, but rather to lessen the likelihood of repulsive obsession, which is a destructive power that can tear through everything from personal relationships to diplomatic relations. There is a big difference between harboring a mild aversion to something and aggressively waging war against ideas and people we don’t like.
Although it is quite impossible to quell the human predisposition for repulsion altogether, especially as emotions grow stronger, we can reduce the potential harm. Here are five moderating behaviors that have been known to save people from their own worst instincts:
Yes, times are hard, interfaith events have been cancelled and large dialogue programs are out of the question, but there are still things we can do. Here are several ideas that are worth pursuing. Please, share additional ideas in the comment section.
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) was a towering figure in history. He lived his philosophy of nonviolent resistance (satyagraha) to the best of his ability. His approach, which grew into a full-fledged ideology with many specific tenets, was primarily based on acts of self-control, developing peace from within, and standing firm when it came to righteous convictions, never at the expense of others but always at one’s own expense. He preached that satyagrahis should never hate the doer, only resist the action, and that no human being was beyond redemption, repeatedly stating that:
“It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”
As a lawyer, activist, spiritual figure, and politician, Gandhi was not beyond reproach, but looking at his life, one can hardly doubt the sincerity of his convictions nor argue against their effectiveness.
Several years ago, I spoke to a minister who was teaching in the outskirts of New York on 9/11 2001. He told me that he’d never seen strangers come together as they did in the weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers. People went out of their way to be nice to each other, support each other, smile at each other, and lend a helping hand wherever they could. He has not experienced anything like it since.
People Get Sidetracked
The truth is that work towards harmony often dissipates in rhythm with receding acrimony. People start to feel better and get sidetracked. This is natural.
If you want to be a bridge-builder, however, you have to work against this instinctive urge. You have to make harmony important, either by continually reminding yourself of the worst that can happen or by envisioning the kind of world that you want to live in and work towards that every day. Some days the carrot will be enough to spur you to action, other days only a vivid mental image of the stick will do the trick.
Martin Luther King Jr. on Nonviolence, Brotherhood, Selflessness, Competition, Hate, Humanity, and Love
At Harmony Interfaith Initiative, we believe that those who inspire should provide a spark, not try to live up to unattainable ideals of perfection. With that said, the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. presents us with an aspirational tale. If we follow in his footsteps, we can do more good, fight for justice, and work towards a brotherhood.
In preparation for MLK day this year, we read a number of quotes from his speeches and books. The following words struck us as equally relevant today as when they were written/spoken. Here they are in no particular order. Our only commentary comes in the form of bolding the words that especially resonated with us.
Exploring co-humanity is never a waste of time. In fact, it seems to be the only doorway that will open up a possibility for respectful ideological exchanges. The following are several examples of co-human encounters. This list will get you started. Getting people together is a creative process and the only thing that limits your options is your own imagination.
Language is labeler-in-chief. Simply pointing to something and identifying it with a word is an act of labeling. As such, labels (however incomplete) are extremely helpful shortcuts. They allow humans to communicate about everything from nuanced physical science to emotional states and abstract ideas. Still, excessive and aggressive ideological labeling can backfire and cause deepening divides.
The human persona (click here to read more about the two personas) consists of elements that are shared by every other human being on the planet. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good place to start when we are trying to understand co-humanity.
The model is usually presented in a pyramid format, with basic needs at the bottom and self-actualization needs at the top.
In recent years, several pundits and politicians from around the world have begun declaring that tolerance is no longer good enough, that we need to replace it with unconditional love and respect for each other.
While that is a beautiful sentiment (one we should surely strive towards), devaluing tolerance is not a step in the right direction. We can’t cut the first few steps off a ladder and then ask people to follow us. Tolerance is still better than open hostilities.
Democracy presents an interesting dilemma. There needs to be a degree of social harmony to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power from one party to the other after elections. Simultaneously, we need to have vigorous ideological debates about how to achieve the common good—which is ultimately what a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ should work towards.
The question of how to balance these two competing interests is the critical issue of our times and it depends on several elements.
Confession: I Can't Afford to be Angry and Outraged All the Time. Here Is What I Try To Do Instead...
Nearly every day of every week of every month for the past few years I’ve seen news stories, images, and ideas that sparked feelings of anger and outrage in me. Simultaneously, I’ve been told by activists to ‘stay angry’ because that is the only way to affect real change.
The problem is, I can’t.
I am just one of those people who can’t afford to be in a continuous state of anger and outrage. Such internal turmoil tears at the very fabric of my soul, poisons my relationships, and causes me to act in ways that are antithetical to my core beliefs.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that anger is not only a primitive and aggressive emotion and that, in fact, sometimes anger conveys signals from my moral compass that are meant to change my behavior. But, the truth remains that I cannot afford to be angry all the time.
Here is what I try to do instead.
The following is a brief checklist I created for ideological bridge-builders:
Begin by looking around you and list divisions that already exist. It is important to begin close to home and look for divides in your family, faith community, and neighborhood first, and then expand your field of vision and explore communications between religious groups and detect chasms that exist in race relations, political behaviors, and so on.
Once you have a list of identified divides, prioritize them based on a combination of three things; (a) the importance and urgency of bridging the gap, (b) your current skill level, and (c) the most suitable place to start construction.
A real-world builder tries to find the best location to bridge a ravine by looking for strong foundations on each side and a narrow gap with easy access. I always suggest to people that they begin with smaller divides closer to home while they train themselves to become better bridge-builders.
When I use the word harmony to describe what we are trying to achieve here at Harmony Interfaith Initiative, people often imagine an idyllic version of that, for instance, the beautiful resonance produced by the Vienna Boys’ Choir singing a classical work of art.
Knowing about that tendency, I go on to explain that even though the choir image might represent our aspirational goal for a harmonious society, punk rock bands and experimental jazz quintets also create their own unique versions of harmony, which is why we should not dismiss any effort in the social context.
In the Ear of the Listener
Everyone knows the saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” A similar statement could be made about music, as in, “harmony is in the ear of the listener.” What may sound beautifully to one person will probably sound like utter rubbish to another, which is why there are so many types of music. Music appreciation is subjective.
The premise for engaging in shared human experiences (which is something we encourage here at Harmony Interfaith Initiative) is fairly simple. If people can be around each other doing co-human things—i.e., things that everyone does, such as eating food, helping others, creating, talking about their family, sharing their life story, etc.—and not feel threatened, anxieties are reduced, empathy is increased, trust is built, and perceptions are changed.
More in Common
Here’s the thing. Birds of a feather flock together. People self-segregate. This is both natural and normal so long as it is not coerced. Individuals choose to be around others who are like them.
And yet, most folks make a noteworthy discovery when they set aside visual and ideological distinctions and mingle with people who they previously thought of as completely different, essentially, that they have more in common than they realized.
Inner voices of doubt and fear can be powerful detractors. “Who do I think I am?” “What can I possibly give to the world?” “I am so flawed that I can hardly be the change.”
To overcome limiting beliefs, we, the aspiring peacemakers and bridge-builders of the world, must find ways to empower ourselves.
Self-Confidence Can Increase or Decrease
Thankfully, self-confidence is not static. You can have a lot of self-confidence in one area of my life and little in another. In addition, the feeling can fluctuate from one year to the next, and, since self-confidence can decrease, it can also increase.
In the context of social harmony, the goal is not to be better than anyone else, rather to be confident enough to take action. As such, self-confidence can be defined as:
This dual definition subtracts chest thumping and narcissism from self-confidence and replaces it with solution- and action-orientation.
In a media landscape that thrives on division, it’s comforting to find companies that believe in our shared humanity and are willing to bet their branding on it.
On the face of it, brands like Heineken, TV 2 in Denmark, and President’s Choice in Canada have very little in common. One sells beer, another is a Danish television station and the third is a food company. Yet, they have all made commercials that celebrate a belief in humanity.
That is why we are sharing their ads here. Not to take a stance for or against their products, but rather to applaud warm and content rich commercials that tugged at our heartstrings when we first saw them.
Connecting Through Co-Humanity Can Decrease Anxiety, Change Perceptions, Generate Trust, and Elicit Empathy
In our workshops, we use four words to underscore the importance of co-human experiences: trust, empathy, perceptions, and anxiety. Allow me to offer more detailed definitions of what we mean by that, starting with the Merriam-Webster dictionary designations:
Anxiety: Apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill.
Perception: A capacity for comprehension, a mental image.
Trust: Reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.
Empathy: The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.
Defiling Religion With Hate: How Individuals, Places of Worship, Society, and the Press Can Counter the Trend
Once again, terror has struck. Once again, lives have been lost. Once again, religion has been defiled by hate. The attacks in Pittsburgh, Christchurch, and Sri Lanka have reminded all of us that hateful people can skew the teachings of any religion and use them as a justification for violent actions.
Sadly, attacks by the few can create divisions among the many, expanding existing chasms between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and creating new ones. We must work diligently against that trend. Hate can spread like a virus.
Here are some of the things that individuals, places of worship, society and the press can do to minimize hatred's influence on society.
I recently listened to an interview on NPR with a self-proclaimed globalist. He rightly pointed out that the globalist view—which, among other things, takes into consideration the effects that our actions have on other societies around the world—does not inherently contradict allegiance to our country any more than our allegiance to our family is antithetical to our allegiance to our country.
Under the right circumstances, both can flourish.
Surplus Leads to Charity
There is no denying that allegiance is subject to a natural progression. We choose our needs above those of others, choose our families needs above those of other families, choose our communities needs above other communities… and on it goes.
However, when working with a surplus, it is also natural for individuals, communities, and nations to become more charitable. When basic needs have been met, people are more open to helping others to meet their needs.
In addition, when people understand the link between their actions and the influences that those actions have on others, they often change their behavior (sometimes at considerable expense to themselves). This shift in behavior is subject to moral growth, i.e. an ability to see the world from a variety of perspectives and change conduct in accordance with that, essentially to use imagination to elicit empathy and compassion.
Carol Gilligan’s model for moral development shows that human beings generally move from being selfish to being able to care for others in their near environment to, in rare cases, showing genuine care for a large number of people they don’t know.
When we compare her model to others in the same vein—including Piaget, Loevinger, Erikson, Steiner, Beck, Graves, Kohlberg, Peck, Fowler, Wilber and others—moral growth corresponds with people’s ability to see the world from an ever-increasing number of perspectives and act accordingly; a classification that rhymes with the human ability for compassion, defined as the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.
Simply put, moral growth leads to increased compassion and care, both of which are central to the development of social harmony.
Let’s take a quick look at the progression.
When I moved from Iceland to Texas in 2010, I was forced to face several unconscious and uncharacteristically judgmental attitudes.
In Iceland, I had labeled myself a political moderate and my voting history included both center-right and center-left political parties (plural, as in, there are a lot of political parties in Iceland, not just the two choices we have here in the USA).
Furthermore, I stood outside of organized religion as a part of the spiritual-but-not-religious movement. I thought of myself as fairly evolved spiritually and predominantly free of pejorative views.
Yet, after we arrived, I struggled mightily with many of the religious and political ideologies I was faced with in Texas. For a while there, I couldn’t even get myself to interact with people who showed different ideological preferences.
Connecting Through Our Shared Humanity
Thank goodness for my wife and kids. Because of my children, who were two and seven when we moved to Texas, I’ve interacted with a number of parents through everything from sports and band to Girl Scouts and Mu Sool Won. Furthermore, my wife, who is a natural connector, has brought me along to crawfish boils, dinner clubs, game nights, and more.
In my work here at Harmony Interfaith Initiative, I meet a lot of good-intentioned people who want to make the world a better place. It is truly a blessing to meet people from all faiths and spiritual paths that are passionate about creating a more harmonious world.
"What My Path Teaches..."
One thing I’ve noticed is that when people are explaining how they came to be called to this work they often cite their faith or spiritual path. Some feel the need to do so in great detail by quoting scripture, talking about the practices they engage in, both personally and with their groups, and by recounting many of the things that their teachers, priests, or spiritual leaders have said.
This is both normal and natural. People not only want to be good but they also want to be seen as good and show how they got there.
Our need for harmony will be in direct relationship with the amount of acrimony we feel. For example, I spoke with a minister last year who was teaching in the outskirts of New York on 9/11 2001. He told me that he’d never seen strangers come together as they did in the weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers. People went out of their way to be nice to each other, support each other, smile at each other, and lend a helping hand wherever they could.
He has not experienced anything like it since, and yet, we are seeing a similar sentiment expressed across continents in the wake of the New Zealand terrorist attack.
When People Start to Feel Better
At this juncture, it is important to remember that work towards harmony often dissipates in rhythm with receding acrimony. People start to feel better and get sidetracked.
This is natural.
So, if we want to be bridge-builders on a continual basis, not just in the aftermath of a tragedy, we have to work against this instinctive urge. We have to make harmony important, either by continually reminding ourselves of the worst that can happen or by envisioning the kind of world that we want to live in and work towards that every day (preferably both).
Reconnecting Through Our Shared Humanity Is the Most Important Project at This Time in History (Examples)
The ‘two personas’ is a concept that is central to everything we do here are Harmony Interfaith Initiative. It is a simple concept with broad implications.
It goes something like this: Each human being has two personas; the human and the ideological. The human persona consists of all the things that make us co-human (think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and the ideological persona consists of all the beliefs and values that cannot be independently proven or disproven (if someone can be persuaded one way or another, then the concept is usually ideological).
As far as we can tell, there are two extremes related to this idea of the two personas.
One extreme is the danger of dehumanization. When people focus on ideological differences and consistently refer to each other using discriminating labels then a door is opened to alienating ‘the other’ and making the human being somehow less than human. That creates justifications to deny basic human needs, a willingness to go along with social marginalization, and a readiness to condone violence. Once violence is condoned, the otherizing is complete.
The other extreme claims that “we are all the same” and misinterprets any attempt to discuss differing beliefs as an attack on someone’s humanity. Ideological differences are dismissed as trivial and only the human persona is allowed to exist. This kind of reductionism can cause problems, but people who refuse to see ideological differences usually do not resort to violence.
We Have Created a Social Imbalance
From an integral standpoint, every human being is a complex mix of these two personas, but our information-driven society has placed such an overemphasis on the ideological persona that it has created an imbalance, politicizing and polarizing everything in ideological terms, from word-use to basic human characteristics such as gender and skin color.
Based on this discrepancy, we can say without hesitation that the most important project at this moment in history is to reclaim a social connection to the human persona, to move away from dehumanizing and otherizing in the direction of co-humanizing.
Here are a few examples to support that hypothesis:
Ideas that promote social harmony and bridge-building across divides.
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Our Mission and Primary Goal
Our mission is to train and support people who want to do good in the world. We do this by providing access to strategies, methods, and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge-building across divides. Our primary goal is to help others create harmony in diverse communities.
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Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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