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:
“History, as we know it, is a record of the wars of the world, and so there is a proverb among Englishmen that a nation which has no history, that is, no wars, is a happy nation. How kings played, how they became the enemies of one another, how they murdered one another, is found accurately recorded in history, and if this were all that had happened in the world, it would have ended long ago. If the story of the universe had commenced with wars, not a man would have been found alive today […] The fact that there are so many men still alive in the world shows that it is based not on the force of arms but on the force of truth or love. Therefore, the greatest and most unimpeachable evidence of the success of this force is to be found in the fact that, in spite of the wars of the world, it still lives on. […] Little quarrels of millions of families in their daily lives disappear before the exercise of this force. Hundreds of nations live in peace. History does not and cannot take note of this fact. History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul. Two brothers quarrel; one of them repents and re-awakens the love that was lying dormant in him; the two again begin to live in peace; nobody takes note of this. But if the two brothers, through the intervention of solicitors or some other reason, take up arms or go to law—which is another form of the exhibition of brute force—their doing would be immediately noticed in the press, they would be the talk of their neighbors and would probably go down in history. And what is true of families and communities is true of nations. There is no reason to believe that there is one law for families and another for nations. History, then, is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul-force, being natural, is not noted in history."
What Gandhi referred to as soul-force is very similar to what we refer to as social harmony, i.e., people getting along with each other, finding ways to love, forgive, contribute, and cooperate.
In his core argument, Gandhi was right. There was little mention in history books of the forces of the soul, love, or harmony when he wrote those words. One could say that the cooperative spirit of liberal democracies during the latter half of the 20th Century changed that history somewhat, but we don’t have to look very far to see modern examples where harmony is present but not noted.
Harmony In Our Everyday World
From families to small communities to cities and beyond, most people, generally speaking, are working towards social harmony in one way or another. Most people are, for example, trying to do a good job of raising their children, cooperating, or contributing to society in their own way. Even in something as infamous as traffic, most people are dedicated to moving safely from one place to another in concert with each other.
However, as Gandhi pointed out, harmony rarely gets attention. “People getting along with each other” is not a catchy news headline. Just like the example of two brothers quarreling, it’s the acrimony and discord that gets our attention, both in the news media and our daily lives.
The Answer Is...
Now, the short answer to our original question of whether or not social harmony is possible is a definite yes. In fact, social harmony is the rule in most places, not the exception. Sadly, and in accordance with Gandhi’s example, people only notice it when harmony is absent and therefore think that disharmony is the dominating factor, when it is, in fact, the other way around. Without social harmony (in its many forms) the human race would likely not exist.
The Forces of Discord are Strong, but We Are...
All that said, the forces of discord are strong and have been gaining traction in recent years, especially in the fields of populous politics and religion.
Thankfully, the forces of harmony are rising up to meet the challenge. I have been heartened to see new interfaith efforts, civility projects, and service endeavors pop up all over the world in recent years, all in an effort to heal wounds, build bridges and reestablish social harmony.
We, at Harmony, believe that when people have access to tools, strategies, and ideas that promote social harmony and bridge-building, then the work is easier for everyone.
In the coming weeks, months, and years, we will use our blog to lay out achievable visions for bridge-builders, healers, and harmonizers, and offer a variety of resources for those who are in need of support.
We, the willing, need to work together. To paraphrase Dr. King, ‘the forces of harmony need to organize as effectively as the forces of division and discord.’
Rev. Gudjon Bergmann
Founder and Lead Educator at Harmony Interfaith Initiative. Author of Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge 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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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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