Harmony and Civility


     Harmony is often preceded by the word “peace.”  This implies that peace and harmony are distinct, but interdependent.  Furthermore, both have internal (i.e. personal) and external (i.e. inter-personal) dimensions.

     External peace is inextribably linked to inner peace.  It could be argued that if there is no inner peace on the part of those on opposing sides of an issue or conflict, the peace achieved is merely the absence of conflict or war.  In some circumstances, where differences are seemingly intractable, perhaps this is as good as it gets.  An example in the real time of today is when Israelis and Palestinians are not lobbing bombs at each other.  In an interview I have had with a well-known promoter of meditation and mindfulness who teaches programs both for Israelis and Palestinians in their respective territories, peace is not even considered viable or realistic.  In this situation, security is the closest opposing sides come to peace.  Harmony?  Seemingly inconceivable.

      Harmony is a deeper, more heart-felt matter that requires a sincere commitment to engender.  Harmony is where various dimensions of thought, being, or expression blend to create a well-integrated, living peacefulness which – in turn – is reflected in our inner attitudes towards ourselves and others, as well as expression or responses externally.

     Imagine, if you will, a number of circles, in which each of us is in our respective center.  In Freemasonry, this symbolizes how we strive to keep our passions within due bounds.  These passions can be our desires, but also includes our more negative emotional states and reactions.

      None of these efforts, however, happen within a vacuum. Imagine that while within your own circle, doing your inner work, you are moving around, doing things with or involve others.  The circles, thus, bump into each other and at times, overlap.  As social beings, these interactions are important to our overall sense of belonging and community.  Yet ever so often the noble ideals and intentions and how we should express them as envisioned in our own minds within our own circle, yet untested, bump into and interact with others who may have the same ideals, intentions, even moral perspectives, but different ideas on whatever it was you came together to do. 

     Welcome to the age-old philosophical conundrums of ultimate or absolute reality versus conditioned or relative reality, where the devil is ALWAYS in the details.  Thus, while we may agree in principle, we may bitterly disagree in practice.  Our seemingly lightly touching circles then resemble a competitive clash of bumper cars!

     To get passed this logjam, if we really want to engage in peace AND harmony, there are three principle steps which we should learn.

      First, we need to take to heart and live according to an on-the-level perspective.  In a framework where equality and equity are foundational, we then need to develop the skill of active listening; pay attention to the content and context in which another offers comment, etc..  Then, there is the practice and skill of civility.

     In any harmonious interaction, civility is a key attribute – so much so that America’s most famous Mason, President George Washington, made a lifelong study and practice of civil discourse and applying civility to every decision, wherever he conceived it to be possible.  Similarly, philosopher Albert Pike, in studying Eastern as well as Western philosophy commented in his Morals and Dogma that the historical Buddha was one of our world’s first Masonic judges, despite him never being a Mason – that we know of!  For the Buddha was more of a philosopher and psychologist who devoted many of his teachings to social, communal, and civil matters, offering all a path of civility as the best course for all to practice.

      From my own studies of the Buddha’s teachings, I have extrapolated a model of civility that is very much in keeping with our Founding Father. 

     What I present here is what I term Five Steps of Wise Action.  I have mentioned these before, but want to offer them here as a remedy to bring about peace and harmony within our community ventures or efforts.

     These are…

  1. Step back.  If opportunity permits, one of the smartest steps forward is to step back.  Get some perspective on the situation.
  2. Assess.  Use your critical thinking skills to see with clarity and surmise what needs to be done.
  3. Reflect.  What’s your part in this situation?  How does your way of thinking impact your response?  What skills do you have to offer?
  4. Engage.  After all these steps which could be defined as internal – you within your own circle – it is time to reach out to others or join them in the venture or task to be done.  Having circumscribed your desires and kept them within due bounds with the mindfulness of Steps One through Three, you engage others on-the-level and are more primed to be an active listener.
  5. Enact. With Steps One through Four, accomplished and in the state of harmony these encourage, you are now more prepared to get on with the task, job, or action for which the force of a collective is needed for success.

     Each of us possesses Buddha nature.  One of the hallmarks of this nature is an altruistic spirit.  At the same time, over a lifetime or – if you will – lifetimes, we have negative thought patterns rooted in our confusion, our addiction to our own point of view, and the defensiveness that often blocks any progress.

     Thus, the peace and harmony we seek requires a commitment in thought, being, and expression which – I assert – is best served by first taking to heart the five-step process I have outlined above. 

     Furthermore, if we do engage each other in such a manner – on-the-level, listening actively, applying the Five Steps of Wise Action, the civility these steps naturally engender will make our work go more smoothly and be more effective.  In other words, we shall have created a spirit of harmony – which is contagious, in the best possible way.

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