Harmony: Some Underlying Considerations

Today’s gathering is a heart-warming expression of hope and belief in the
possibility that the dream of harmony could be made a reality. While our
dream is for Armidale in a very special way, it is also for this great land
of ours and the world beyond.

The quest for harmony is a necessary enterprise, at all scales of social
being, not only because it sweetens life, but because without it both the
quality of life and our very humanity are diminished. The quest is also an
urgent one, particularly so at a time in human history when violence and
intransigence continue to be regarded as valid approaches to intractable
problems. This afternoon, we affirm that harmony offers us a life-giving
alternative, and an incomparably more benign pathway to follow. Ours is not
an empty pipe-dream, because innate in the human spirit is a goodness which
nothing can eradicate, although there is much that can deface it and keep
it buried and out of sight. With that inherent goodness comes the desire
for the amity, cooperation and the openness to one another that signify

Many, who speak of harmony today, regard it as a project that involves
being nice to one another, putting up with one another, not blowing a fuse
or pulling down the shutters when the going gets tough. For those concerned
with the larger canvas, harmony is commonly seen as the outcome of
discussion, agreement, policies, collective action, and above all ongoing
education, dialogue and vigilance. To these are added carefully framed
rules and enforcement procedures.

But when we look more closely at harmony, we come to realise that it is a
journey of the human spirit, which has to be undertaken freely. It is a
state of being that cannot be contrived or imposed. However much we may
desire it, harmony does not happen by accident. It requires more than
public posturing, smiles and handshakes, polite words of goodwill and
pieces of paper which are soon forgotten in the humdrum of daily living or
filed away for future reference?

So, if we are sincere about the project should we not identify its bases
and prerequisites? To begin to answer this question, we need to see
harmony in fuller, more holistic perspective.

Firstly, harmony is not something to be sought either as an isolated
entity, or as something out there. We have to seek it within the core of
our being. If we do not, we will end up with something temporary and
superficial: a temporary substitute.

Secondly, the quest is not a short-term one. It is long-term and ongoing.
For is not harmony very much an end state in human relationships, whose
realisation has to be preceded by a series of transformations that carry
the individual and the collectivity beyond the accustomed status quo and
beyond present zones of comfort?

But to examine these is to challenge ourselves, perhaps to radical vision,
and to raise questions that cut close to the bone; for many perhaps too
close for complacency and comfort.

What are these changes? I believe that these essential prior changes
include the forsaking of violence in its myraid forms; authentic commitment
to peace, non-violence and justice; commitment to tolerance, understanding
and openness; to compassion, forgiveness and mercy.

These in their turn depend on honesty and humility which enable us to see
the humbug within us as individuals and collectivities, and to a
willingness to admit that we too have shortcomings.

And these in their turn require the desire, the motivation and the stamina
of spirit, which many refer to as the fruit of prayer and grace, which call
on us and enable us to transcend the clamour and the dictates of self, and
to embrace the other as brother, as sister; to see far beyond our immediate
horizons and to acknowledge that all people as precious members of the
human family. For people with faith in the supreme Other there has to be an
acknowledgement, that we are all beloved children of God. If we are true to
such vision there is no room for exclusivity, discrimination and greed.

But all this is particularly difficult to genuinely subscribe to today,
because individualism and with it the cult of self are universally
promoted, and facilitated with catch-cries such as “do my our own thing”,
and “I am free to decide for myself.” Ours is a time when societies regard
their own interests as paramount, and when principles and morals, if and
where they exist, are as stable as floating currencies in a highly volatile
money market. The cult of self urges and enables ‘me’ to set myself up as
the final arbiter of right and wrong, and to determine my own moral
standards however inconsistent and unprincipled these may be. Moral values
are widely regarded as time-bound, and with a use-by date, and dependent
upon personal preference, utility, opportunity and scientific permission
and possibility. Where we are immersed in the cult of self, pride takes
over. It is with ease that we become self-righteous. We see the failings in
the other most clearly, but to cry “mea culpa” or to say “sorry” are too
abhorrent and bitter to contemplate. In such a milieu, agreement and
mutual understanding and respect remain no more than words, while the
justice that includes mercy, generosity and self-sacrifice becomes

Thus it is at the level of the spirit that the challenge to harmony must be
faced. It is a challenge to profound conversion that few would wish to
embark upon. So, why bother? Why not indulge in make-believe? Why not stay
with the Clayton’s version of harmony?

This, I suppose, depends on whether one regards the goal as more important
than the process by which it is attained; and whether ends are considered
more important than means. Does not the greater value of the quest for
harmony lie in the undertaking of the project rather than in a successful
outcome? Is it not the journey that is the more humanising than arriving at
the destination? Is it not fidelity during the journey that feeds the
spirit? Is it not integrity throughout the journey in search of the
‘unreachable star’ that brings to light and into life the divine in each
one of us? And, is it not in this that we come to fulfillment and bequeath
something worthwhile to posterity? What do you think?

B.S. 23.03.2002.