One of my favorite books by Erich Fromm is titled The Art of Loving. His main message is that cultivating love is an art form. Fromm gives examples of innate talents in everything from painting to dance to music to acting, showing the reader that natural talent only accounts for a small percentage of the art created by the artist.
For example, someone who sits at the piano and starts playing the Moonlight Sonata at an early age (like my son did) has to practice hard if professional status is ever to be achieved (which he did not, opting for the trumpet instead).
Practice. That is the key element for Fromm. The ability to love takes practice because the innate feeling can only take us so far.
My Own Experiences With Love
Having been married since 2001 and having spent the last fifteen years taking care of my children, I can attest to that. My initial feelings, both for my wife and for my children, were only seeds. I’ve had to nurture and weed on a continual basis. Thankfully, my ability to love has grown because I have made it a priority in my life. Now, because of great social unrest, I am doing the same in the area of social harmony.
Harmony Begins Within
In recent years, my focus on social harmony has increased. It’s been a turnaround for me. In reaction to the divisive and acrimonious rhetoric all around me, I had allowed myself to fall into the trap of being angry and irritated for prolonged periods of time. I was all too prepared to blame everyone but myself for the problem.
Then I thought of Fromm and my experiences with love. I realized, that much like love, harmony begins within. If I cannot be in harmony within, how can I expect to be in harmony with others? As a result, I recommitted to my spiritual practice, focusing on surrender, flow, harmony and love.
But I needed more than that. I wasn’t going to solve the larger problem alone. What else was I supposed to practice and why?
More Is Needed for Social Harmony
For actual bridge building and social harmony, I realized that touchy-feely wasn’t going to cut it, that wishful thinking wasn’t going to be enough, that just like a budding artist, I needed guidance from teachers. I needed a practice plan.
I began by looking to interfaith activists, such as Dr. Leonard Swidler, for guidance. Then I looked at conflict zones for solutions and found inspiration from both Betty Williams and Padraig O’Malley from their work during the Northern Ireland peace process. My affection for Eastern mysticism unearthed principles about human behavior that explained a lot of the turmoil we are experiencing and I found other resources.
For me, teaching is an important part of learning. That’s why I began writing articles about this topic—but I didn’t stop there. I gave talks. I created a program for myself that has now become a program for others. I founded Harmony Interfaith Initiative with my wife. I partnered with Charter for Compassion because I realized that I needed to be in constant cooperation with others for my efforts to make any kind of impact. Today, I am continuing the work, both through my practice at home and in my interactions with others.
Practice and Persistence
Having concrete things to practice helps—a lot! Same as with any other art form, progress is based on the right kind of practice. It’s similar to knowing the right position to sit in at the piano, the right fingering on the guitar, or the correct way to blend colors.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had an inclination for harmony and preferred it to the feeling to acrimony (I really don’t like to fight) but I’ve realized that becoming good at living in harmony with others takes practice, persistence, and guidance.
The bottom line is that social harmony is an art form where initial talent needs to be supplemented with practice.
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Bridge Building and Social Harmony
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We envision a world where people have access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge building across divides. To us, interfaith means the continual improvement of interrelations between people who strongly believe in different worldviews.
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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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