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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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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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