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:
With Participants from All Across the World, Our Partnership with the Charter for Compassion Continues
In 2018 we partnered with Charter for Compassion to offer a workshop that was called Working Together Towards Harmony. It attracted nearly three hundred participants from over twenty-five countries. I used the feedback I got from that group to improve the course, rename it, and write a book based on that material.
Now, starting on March 18, we are offering the online course again, this time under its new name: Co-Human Harmony. We already have registered participants from the USA, Scotland, France, Malaysia, Australia, England, Canada and the Netherlands.
by Andrew Chirch
Have you ever heard the saying that "you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with?
For me, that saying took on a deeper meaning after reflecting on Ya Ahad from the Islamic tradition. One of the ninety-nine names for the divine, Ya Ahad translates (I’m told) as something like absolute and total oneness.
To be very clear, I am not an Islamic theologian or scholar. At the risk of appropriating something out of context from a revered religion, I offer that what I share comes through the lens of my own identity. Any misreading or insult is unintentional. Having said that, the Sufi Sheikh I first heard this term from smiled gently and said, “there is nothing that is not The One” when I asked about this name.
Most people are familiar with the parable of the three blind men who were attempting to describe an elephant. One held the trunk, another the tail, and the third held the belly while they argued vehemently about which one of them was right in their description of the elephant. In their own way, they were all correct. Each held a vital piece of the puzzle.
That sentiment of ‘true but partial’ is something I resonate with deeply. That is why I sought input from 19 bridge-builders and peacemakers in my new book.
Here is some of what they had to say:
Last year, I was working on a pilot project with the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan that was aimed at improving relations between church members and the Native American population in the area using some of the ideas from our Co-Human Harmony program.
During that time, we stumbled upon an interesting problem. Some of the participants were focused on bridge-building and social harmony. Others were intently focused on social justice and thought that the whole social harmony thing was a waste of time.
I experienced a similar quandary when I approached potential contributors for my new book. One woman told me flat out: “I am not interested in social harmony. I want social justice.”
What is the Difference?
As I understand it, social harmony seeks to improve relations between people who are at odds while social justice reform is about changing policies and laws through the political system.
The two are not completely antithetical but the approaches are different.
The social harmony approach looks for potential bridge-building opportunities and attempts to find common ground before trying to solve difficult issues.
The social justice approach seeks to highlight injustices in the public domain, draw attention to them in any way it can, and then solve them through legal reforms. In many cases, anger and outrage are used as catalysts.
by Aaron Bible
Teaching a world religions class to seventh graders in the middle of the Protestant-dominated Bible Belt of Appalachia has been a challenge. The geographical isolation of our area has led to our students and community not getting enough exposure to other religions of the world, and the only education they are currently receiving is superficial with little to no real experiences of other ways of life.
I believe the only way we can create a peaceful and productive society is through an empathic education of true experience that fosters an understanding of religious diversity. This is the very reason I applied to attend The Interfaith Center of New York’s NEH-sponsored Religious Worlds of New York summer institute. And after attending the three-week program, I am now equipped with an abundance of resources and knowledge that will help me and my students become better citizens of the world.
Dr. Henry Goldschmidt, ICNY’s Director of Programs, led the institute with a passion for all the educators in attendance, but equally for the students that we would eventually be teaching back in our own classrooms. The first real revelation that Dr. Goldschmidt made to us was the idea of teaching “lived” religion as opposed to merely “charting” religion. He explained that putting a set list of major religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.) into a grid of superficially shared features (founder, scripture, doctrine, etc.) does not lead to a true understanding of any religion, or the lives of its practitioners. For example:
People often become demoralized when they are faced with enormous problems. In their eyes, the obstacles may seem so overwhelming that they give up and do nothing.
This can true about all types of issues, including global warming (“it won’t matter what I do so I won’t do anything”), politics (“these people are going to keep fighting no matter what I do and my vote doesn’t matter”), and interfaith relations (“the religions of the world have been at odds for millennia… how can I do anything to change that?”).
Whether the internal arguments against doing something are identical to the ones described above or are entirely different the outcome is the same. No action is taken.
And yet, doing nothing is also doing something.
Good people who sit on the sidelines are also contributing to the problems we face. Who knows what the outcome would be if they did what they could with what they have where they are? In the same way that compound interest generates exponential growth if money is invested for long enough, compound actions make a difference.
An Achievable Vision
We have found that when people feel overwhelmed, they need an achievable vision—a feeling that what they are doing means something and contributes to the overall solution in some small way.
In my new book, Co-Human Harmony, I offer such a vision:
In the modern world, there is a tremendous need for interfaith dialogue. When done right, dialogue can ease tensions, reduce anxiety, build trust, increase empathy, and change perceptions.
But, when done wrong, it can cement distrust, fortify stereotypes, and deepen divides. The wrong way, in this context, is to bring total strangers together and lead with the most contentious topic that you can find. It doesn’t take an active imagination to see where that will end.
If you are interested in improving relations, both between people of different faiths and between people of no faith and the faithful, allow me to offer a step-by-step approach that has served the interfaith community well.
Interfaith Explainer: The Difference Between Intrafaith, Interfaith, Multifaith and Interspirituality
These four words, intrafaith, interfaith, multifaith and interspirituality, mean very different things. Yet, they are sometimes used interchangeably and without distinction. The following definitions should help people discern and understand the differences.
Intrafaith = Within
When someone proposes an intrafaith conversation that means a conversation within said faith or religion. Our January guest blogger, Rev. Susan M. Strouse, wrote eloquently about the importance of having discussions within faith traditions, especially as they relate to the implications of interfaith dialogue.
On October 20, 2010, the UN declared the first week of February to be observed as World Interfaith Harmony Week. This project, first proposed by King Abdullah II of Jordan, has grown year by year and now has more official participants than ever before.
The initiative is decentralized by design, but those who are participating can register their events on the World Harmony Interfaith Week website or with affiliates such as URI and The Parliament of the World’s Religions.
The official goal is to improve relations between people of different faiths or belief systems (which, as always, includes those who are not affiliated with any faith).
Martin Luther King Jr. said that men often fear each other because they are separated and can’t communicate with one another. This weeklong celebration, from February 1-7, is meant to alter that dynamic and improve relations.
by Rev. Susan M. Strouse
“We don’t know how to talk to one another any more!” It’s a common lament these days, especially those with whom we disagree. We tend to stay within our own bubbles, safe in our comfort zones with those who are of like-mind. Despite (or perhaps because of) the growing diversity of our world, we seem to be more divided than ever.
One area where the opposite has been true is the interfaith movement, in the desire to cross boundaries, learn from other traditions, and work collaboratively for the good of our communities and world. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which I recently attended in Toronto, Canada. Being among over 8,000 people from all over the world, representing a stunning array of nearly 200 religious, spiritual, and Indigenous traditions is my idea of heaven on earth!
But some years ago, I became aware of a concern within our interfaith ranks. At just about every interfaith gathering I attend, someone will pipe up and say, “Interfaith is great, but what we really need is an intrafaith dialogue.” And I agree. For I had discovered this for myself in one of the congregation I previously served as pastor.
What will a book about social harmony and bridge-building need to include to be considered a worthy contribution in challenging and divisive times? How will it supplement the efforts of interfaith and interideological initiatives across the country? How can I make sure I am not wasting people’s time?
Those were some of the questions I returned to again and again as I wrote Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides, which was published on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 21, 2019, and here are some of the answers I came up with.
I was listening to a Dr. King tribute show on NPR last Thursday on my way back from a planning committee meeting for the Annual Friendship and Dialogue Dinner that will be hosted by Dialogue Institute Austin. Funnily enough, one of my Muslim friends there had told me a story of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and how he’d told people, who’d to travel for hours to Mecca to pray with him, that the traveling time could be used for contemplation and prayer and was really a blessing in disguise. That turned out to be true for me on my hour-long drive back home. Listening to stories of Dr. King was both uplifting and inspiring.
The interviewees on the radio program had all known Dr. King personally. Of the things they said and stories they recounted, one struck me as particularly relevant to our times.
A Spiritual Malady That Must Be Avoided
It was Dr. King’s refusal to harbor feelings of anger and hatred, even when justified, which got my attention. According to a close friend, who had also read through most of Dr. King’s unpublished sermons, this was a reoccurring theme in the reverend’s life. He believed that destructive emotions, however deserving, were a spiritual malady that did more harm to the one harboring them than to those who the emotions were directed at.
When I tell people what we are working on at Harmony Interfaith Initiative—how we aim to support and supplement social harmony and bridge-building efforts in every way we can—they respond in one of two ways, either by saying, “that’s wonderful,” (more common) or by saying, “do you think that’s even possible?” (a sentiment that is sometimes delivered in a more direct and less supportive way).
To be fair, asking if social harmony is even possible is a rational question. One look at the news or someone’s social media feed can convince just about anyone that society is strapped in a jet-engine-car speeding down the highway to hell. Wondering whether social harmony is achievable or whether there is any precedent for it in history is entirely reasonable.
Gandhi's Response to Critiques of Nonviolence
To answer that question, allow me to defer to Mohandas K. Gandhi. The following quote appears in my new book, Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides, and shows how he responded when asked about the feasibility of nonviolence:
Is there more divisiveness in the world now than at any other time in history? That’s a question that is nearly impossible to answer. That said, most people we talk to feel that divisiveness of all sorts—be it political, theological, racial, or personal—has become a sustained part of their everyday life, even if they don’t want to participate in it. The question then becomes: How do people respond to such sustained divisiveness?
An Array of Responses to Acrimony
The following is a sample of common responses:
by Kenneth G. Palmer
Often times we become entrenched in our own distinct, doctrinal philosophies that we end up becoming fixated on how that is translated into a dialogue, peripherally fomenting an ecumenical understanding of specific convictions and how it relates to our neighboring communities. For monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there are three particular doctrines of “work” which enables its adherents to not only grow in their spirituality, but likewise, those very tenets will unequivocally benefit the community around them. When we strive to become better people, the results are clear, we change, and our relationships do as well. Friendships strengthen and our community’s needs are met with tangible solutions that develop into deeper relationships, encouraging others to do the same.
Anger is an interesting emotion. It can move a person to action or, if it becomes a sustained feeling, be a force of destruction from the inside out. In truth, anger can’t be suppressed completely. Even the most advanced spiritual masters admit to succumbing to the emotion from time to time. Therefore, anger is best utilized in a sprinting fashion, by allowing short bursts to move one to action, followed by a period of recovery.
But what are we to do if the outside world seems continually angry? How are we to respond to sustained emotional attacks that would under normal circumstances be rare and evoke an appropriate amount of anger?
Under those conditions, most people don’t fare very well. They either try to match the intensity of the anger they perceive as being pointed at them or try to numb themselves to the emotion with food, alcohol or drugs.
Outrage is Not Sustainable
If you mix anger, fear, and discontent with a dash of other emotions, you get outrage. In recent years, we, as a society, have experienced one wave of outrage after another. Even when justified, outrage is not a sustainable emotion. The reason is simple. Outrage is so enervating that it is bound to evaporate. It cannot be sustained for any length of time. Even when a person has every reason to be outraged, the feeling will dissipate because it will, eventually, cause exhaustion. I know that many people are greeting the New Year with less energy than they are used to for exactly that reason.
Love equals relationships. To experience love you must be in a relationship, either with yourself, your lover, your spouse, your children, your friends, your family, nature, the universe or your creator, to name a few of the most common love relationships.
The Glue That Holds Us Together
Love has been named the glue that holds people together. Some even say that it holds the universe together. A child that receives no touch and no love when newly born can actually wither away and die. Love is the most spoken about, written about, sung about and in other ways expressed feeling in the world.
Many Types of Love
Anyone speaking of love must realize that there are many types of love. There is the excitement at the beginning of a relationship (closely related to the second human need for excitement and sex), a mothers love for her child, the love of a married couple, the love for a friend, the masters love for his student, Gods love for his children and so on.
Here are three distinct types of love:
Religion has a spotty track record. I’ll be the first to admit that. It has been, and in many cases still is, used as an excuse to brainwash, exclude, shame or condemn people—sometimes all at once—and there is no denying that atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.
But… religion has also shown itself to be exceptionally valuable, both personally and culturally. It has produced a number of outstanding people, been a guiding light for peace and unity, created beautiful communities all around the globe, given purpose and meaning to millions, and encouraged people to tend to their spiritual side, to name a few.
Music Appreciation and Religion
Comparative religion author, Huston Smith, once said that religion was like music. He said that despite the fact that the world had, on average, produced more bad music than good music, music appreciation classes spent very little time on listening to bad music, that most music appreciation was about listening to, or, in some cases, learning to appreciate, good music.
There is a significant difference between interfaith and interspirituality. Interfaith is about working towards harmony and finding ways to co-exist despite ideological differences. Interspirituality is an exploration that can unveil the few strands of experience that the religions of the world share.
Keep these differences in mind and try to spot which is which while you read the following quotes. They appear in chronological order, based on the birth years of their authors.
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Our Vision and Primary Goals
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We provide people with access to strategies, methods, and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge-building across divides. We use the term interfaith broadly to mean 'a strong belief in someone or something' and focus on improving interrelations between people who have different worldviews. Our primary goals are to remind people of our shared humanity and to support new and ongoing efforts.
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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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