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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
I care about society. That is why I have always had an interest in politics. Not because of the personal attacks, drama, and larger than life personalities, but because of the implications on society. More than once in the past few years I have been tempted to throw myself into the mix and start running for office. But then I stop a moment, think about the implications and withdraw.
Why? Because I want to work towards a more harmonious society and in order to become elected in the current atmosphere the business of politics expects the opposite. Even those who champion equal rights and harmony have begun stooping to the level of name-calling and grandstanding. It seems that (almost) every politician is forced to take tougher and more unequivocal stances to get elected. There is no room for nuance or working across the isle.
The same is true about activists. They need to take ever-tougher stances (it seems) and scream bloody murder on social media and in the streets to gain attention. I hear what they are saying and agree with a lot of it, but again, it seems counter to the goal of creating social harmony where people can civilly air their disagreements without demonizing each other.
King and Gandhi
The more I study what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas K. Gandhi did in their nonviolent movements, the more impressed I am with the poise they showed in the face of adversity and their unwavering commitment to love.
It’s easy to become angry and irritated in the face of injustice, biases, and discrimination and respond in kind. It’s also easy to become so overwhelmed and enraged that it feels justified and like the right thing to do. I know that both Gandhi and King struggled with those emotions time and time again but they restrained themselves, both advocating love for those who would call themselves their enemies. That must have taken will, determination, and faith.
We are told not to talk about ideological differences. Look at where that has gotten us. We are more ideologically divided than ever before. Maybe we should reconsider? These are important topics worthy of conversation. For example, when we discuss politics, we are debating what kind of society we want to live in, and when we discuss religion, we are speaking of personal values and spiritual inclinations.
If we want to have civil discussions, we need to make a distinction between two competing elements that are found within each human being. Equipped with that understanding, we can practice talking to each other rather than talking at each other.
Human and Ideological Personas
The idea of the two personas—which is central to our work at Harmony Interfaith Initiative and was originally presented by Padraig O’Malley who took part in the Northern Ireland peace process—explains the distinction we need to make if we want to have meaningful discussions. According to O’Malley, each human being is a mix of two personas. One is human the other ideological.
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.
Ideas that promote social harmony and bridge-building across divides.
Be a guest blogger
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.
Subscribe to our newsletter to stay in touch. You can also connect with us on social media.
©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
Connect With Us