No. 47 Harmony: the Universal Calling?
As much as possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone. (St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 12: 18)
On the 22nd of September, 2012, Armidale will be celebrating the International Day of Peace. Members of our diverse community will come together to share and discuss their views on peace and harmony, especially at the local level. Your input will be welcome (See Parish Notice Board). All are people of good will, whatever their personal faiths may be. So, it is an opportune time to think more closely on the subject.
The quest for harmony is a most necessary enterprise, to be undertaken 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, divisive politics and the misuse of power continue to be regarded as valid approaches to achieving goals and for resolving intractable problems. 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 stifle and deface it and keep it buried and out of sight. With that inherent goodness comes the desire for the tolerance, amity, cooperation and an openness to one another that signify harmony.
Many, who speak of harmony today, regard it as a project that involves being nice to others, 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. And that 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 torn and 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 bases and prerequisites of harmony?
To begin to answer this question, we need to see harmony in fuller, more holistic perspective. (1) 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 temporary and superficial substitutes. (2) The quest is not a short-term one. It has to be 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 group , whatever its size, beyond the accustomed status quo and beyond present zones of comfort? (3) 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 some of these changes?
I believe that these essential prior changes include (a) forsaking of violence in its myriad forms; (b) authentic commitment to peace, non-violence and justice; (c) commitment to tolerance, understanding and openness to one another; and to compassion, forgiveness and mercy. (d)These in their turn depend on honesty and humility, which enable us to see the humbug within us as individuals and collectivities, and lead to a willingness to admit that I/we too have shortcomings. (e) And these in their turn require the desire, the motivation and the stamina of spirit, which many refer to and recognise as the fruit of prayer and grace, which call on us and enable us to transcend the clamour and the dictates of the selfish self, and to embrace the other as brother, as sister; (f) to see far beyond our immediate horizons and to acknowledge that all people are precious members of the human family. (g) For people with faith in the Supreme Other there has to be an acknowledgement that we are all beloved children of God. And that if we accept and are true to such vision, we would realise that there is no room for exclusivity, discrimination, greed and violence in our hearts.
Difficulties in the Way
But all this is particularly difficult to genuinely subscribe to today, because individualism and with it the cult of self are universally promoted, advocated and facilitated with catch-cries such as “do your own thing”, and “I must decide for myself, right or wrong.” Ours are times when individuals and 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. As stated earlier in these pages, 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 possibility. Where we are immersed in the cult of self, pride takes over and enables us to become self-righteous with ease. We see the failings in the other most clearly, but to acknowledge my own 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
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 and persevere with. So, why bother? Why not indulge in make-believe? 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?
In the meanwhile, we have to live in a world where much is askew, and where people of goodwill often disagree. In the face of seeming impossibility for accord, there is one way by which we could fruitfully proceed. This is through living, by the grace of God, in our private and in public lives, the gospel of peace, striving to transcend our differences. And not giving up.
Lord, our God, make us channels of your peace. With you, all things are possible. In you, we trust.