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.
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.
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).
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.
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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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