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.
Both Have Value
While we here at Harmony Interfaith Initiative are primarily focused on social harmony—and I will come back to how that can aid social justice—we understand that both approaches have value.
Some injustices are gut-wrenchingly-wrong and need to be fought against with great emotion. We applaud those who have chosen this path. Our only hope is that they practice self-care and don’t allow themselves to be devoured by the accompanying emotions.
At the same time, it is important to build bridges between people of different faiths and ideologies, especially people who think that they have less in common than they really do (thankfully, most people fall into this category).
In Contact Theory, sociologist Robert Putnam explains: “knowing someone within a particular group means a more positive assessment of that group in general—whether you have known that someone for a long time or not.” That sentiment encompasses much of our work.
Best Weapon is to Sit Down and Talk
Here is how social harmony can aid social justice. If people want society to be just, it must also be peaceful, which was the stated reason why Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was so focused on nonviolence. Sooner or later people have to sit down and talk, to find compromise, and that is easier to do when bridges between different groups exist.
Nelson Mandela famously said that: “The best weapon is to sit down and talk.”
The Two Should Complement Each Other
Social harmony and social justice approaches should complement each other. Once an injustice has been uncovered in the public arena, once the fight has taken place for long enough, the forces of social harmony can come in with bridge-building techniques to establish relations for the future.
In fact, if the forces of social harmony have done their job, some bridges will already have been built, making the job easier for everyone.
Conversely, if all the bridges have been burnt and people are shouting at each other in righteous rage from opposite ends of ideological chasms then no minds will be changed and no peace will be found.
That's What We're Working On
We need bridges. We need communications and dialogue based on trust. We need to see how we are alike. We need to hold onto the idea that social harmony is possible. That is why we, at Harmony, will stay in our lane and continue to work on our mission, which is to give people tools, techniques, and ideas so that they can bridge divides and work towards social harmony.
We’d love to work with you if you feel the same.
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 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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