In pursuit of Harmony: we can thrive again

‘Harmony principles’ in practice

For the delegates and presenters drawn to the UWTSD’s Harmony Institute Student Conference 2020 last week, this translated into crossing silos, addressing diversity, adopting integrative thinking, moving beyond analysis to synthesis, and empowering with narrative. To the representations gathered from, and for, the business, interfaith, theology, social justice and inclusion faculties, this was the pragmatic use of ‘harmony’ to tackle ‘wicked’ problems. A week later, as our personal worlds slow and adapt to fight the pandemic, I cling to the concepts, ideas and aspirations shared. With a new attitude and resolve to do things differently, we can thrive, together.

Resilience

Resilience was a guiding theme. A concept with heightened relevance in today’s context. The ability to cope in overwhelming circumstances. So poignant, as business-as-usual and life-as-we-know-it is curtailed. Gathered together in Lampeter, the Harmony Conference provided space to collectively peel back, layer upon layer, of cultural and societal norm. For me, an unplanned window to distance from the frenzy and panic in the supermarkets and the media. For there, in this place, a gift to bear witness to the possibilities and potential for a more ‘harmonious’ human existence. If we could only fully acknowledge ‘our’ inseparability from nature, and the interconnectedness of all mankind. The surfacing, unfolding and awakening gentle will of diverse thinkers, interconnected, and purposed to work on harmonious solutions. Individuals, groups, within and across communities, self-determined and focused. To not wait for government or industry to seed or lead the necessary change.

This was an incredibly thought-provoking share of research and passion from an atypical collective. Drawn from Business, Social Justice and Inclusion, and Inter-faith; this was a broad collective united through a shared lens. People drawn from very different disciplines to an annual event originally inspired by the book ‘Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World’ (HRH Prince of Wales, Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly, 2010). Each presenter, armed with their own set of perspectives, perceptions, and questions, and research-based evidence, yet conjoined in harmonious aspiration. Drawn into one space, curated by Dr. Nicholas Campion, Director of the Sophia and the Harmony Institute, to “debate, discuss and make decisions on action.”

Harmony defined

Anthropologist, Dr. Luci Attala, philosopher, Dr. Rebekah Humphreys, and Professor of Practice, Tony Juniper joined Dr. Nicholas Campion, to deliver a lively opening address before handing over to the students and researchers. The underpinning question ‘what constitutes Harmony?’ being tackled. The breath of economic, theological, anthropological, social and political ideas emphasising a broad range of application which dares to address weighty global issues of our time.

“Harmony is a model of the world in which all things are interconnected and interrelated. It is found in modern sciences as well as traditional and indigenous world views. [It] is a philosophical understanding of how the work is organised, but also has detailed applications” with implications for individuals as well as wider policy development. – Dr. Nick Campion

Dr. Rebecka Humphries set the tone of urgency, referring to rising emission levels, mass climate refugee movements, and the exponential loss of diversity and habitat, inviting to look beyond ourselves, to expand our frame of self-interest to the non-human species.

Diversity

Another strong theme to emerge, was the ‘energetic engagement with diversity’. More powerful than tolerance, ‘an active seeking of understanding across different lines’ (Eck, 2006.) A recognition that a ‘harmonious future’ neither demands or accepts a sanitized approach, but develops with rich, open, and challenging dialogue. An acceptance that not everyone at the ‘table’ will or should agree. That it is the will to be present at the table, to encounter our own and others’ commitments (ibid.) that is crucial.

‘Harmony’ can sometimes conjure up soft and fluffy connotations, diverting emphasis to consistency and order. Yet, the presentations and exchanges revealed, and also celebrated a robust and resilient embodiment of harmony in a messy, disrupted and complex world. A means to bring some form of unity of related and non-related entities, parts and perspectives, that can live with the differences and disagreements, but in a productive way. Such that can, as ‘HRH Prince Charles’ contributes within his book, lead us to “revolution” so that we be diverted or unchained from engrained, conflict-ridden and over-consumptive damaging habits. Hairs rise on the back of my neck as I reflect and write, to how relevant this is to our current situation.

Maxwell Davies’ contribution focused on equity and diversity in society and the work to be done to remove stereotypes from society. A call for children to be supported to build on innate strengths rather than according to their anatomy or assigned gender. Cautioning on issues linked to low self-esteem, labelling, privilege and power. Emma Procter further embraced the diversity within every single person through research work entitled “Defining spaces – personal discourses on non-binary self-identity”. Interfaith contributions by Talha Bhamji and Fatima Jiwani promoted a shift from monism to pluralism. Acknowledging competing theoretical or individual perspectives, but recognizing the need for collective goals for whole communities. Fatima also demonstrated the value of an interfaith curriculum to develop pluralistic attitude in India. Here, education identified as a key tool to overcome political, social and cultural challenges. Pedagogy that envelopes different faiths, promotes dialogue, celebration and experiential learning. That leaning design must encompass physical, cognitive, social and affective learning outcomes. Jorden Coller, a student of Carmarthen Business School business portfolio, one purposefully impregnated with sustainability, shared the ability of business to adopt/integrate all Harmony Principles. Yet this also highlighted how far we need to change, so this becomes mainstream rather than the exception in our capitalist world. Rachel King-Thomas from Social Inclusion & Justice delivered a fact-wielding presentation illuminating the difficult and complicated issue of implementing successful government-led green transport initiatives. Rachel cautioned that disharmony and inconvenience are not the same things. At the policy level, there is a need for much more creative thinking, not a fix of old problems with old ideas.

Powerful narratives

Presentations concluded with the vibrant share of ‘Collective Social Memory Triggers’ by Isabelle Tindall, awakening enthralled delegates to personal opportunities of rediscovering lost or hidden meaning within stories and memories, be these triggered by locations or words used by text writers. Isabelle’s methodology being able to uncover the potential misrepresentation of women in religious texts, and misinterpreted meaning; an incentive to strip away of layers of gendered interpretation. Isabelle spoke of ‘genre-bending’ and the layering of narrative upon stories already embedded into the scriptures through “collective social memory triggers”, opening up a depth of social, theological and cultural implications. Such powerful work stimulates limitless types of productive conversations, not just in the context of Jewish and Christian scholars. A methodology to reveal the true stories of the under-represented people buried within stories or texts, whether that be for social or political reasons. “A tool for anyone who feels disconnected or disenfranchised – to reveal the hidden and lost interpretations that matter”.

Call to action

Dr. Nicholas Campion brought the plenary to a close, reflecting on how harmony had been questioned in such a diversity of ways, that it remains a dynamic, open and ongoing investigation for us all. Professor of Practice, Tony Juniper perfectly and succinctly teased out the summary themes implanted in our minds. An ‘attack on mono-culture’ (HRH Prince of Wales), and ‘one way of looking at the world’, that we challenge engrained or broken frames of references, be that faith, gender or in business practice. And also a call to action, to embrace integrated thinking, cross silos, and move beyond analysis and agendas to synthesis, particularly in education.

Tony Juniper reinforced that the adoption of the ‘Harmony philosophy’ is not about departing from rational thinking or the science and data. But requires its embodiment in our thinking, our shared thinking.

From this one event, we can have faith in dark times, Harmony is here, it is already within us. The network is growing. Against a backdrop of climate change, depleting resources, diversity loss and a live global pandemic, there can be, a sense of logic, pragmatism and hope. Whilst acknowledging the varied crises faced by humanity are of our making, we are prepared to grasp the window of opportunity to craft a better destiny together. To seek out how we reconnect with the natural world and its wisdom, mimic nature’s rhythms and models where possible and re-connect with each other. A call for a much deeper probing than solutions born out of adaptation or reframing of the same problems. As Dr. Luci Attala had indicated, the world requires a more enthusiastic, more creative re visioning; that we think in terms of new stories, and wake up to alternative future.

I can only hope, post-pandemic, we embrace the opportunity for a new ‘harmony’.


Thanks to the Institute of Harmony at the UWTSD for the space for focus, critical exploration, and rich, meaningful engagement on the key themes of our time. Thanks, in addition to all identified in the post, Dr. Caroline Lohman-Hancock, Phillip Morgan & Ken Dicks (Social Justice & Inclusion), Dr. Louise Emanuel & Dr. Alex Bell (Carmarthen Business School) and Dr. Angus M Slater (Theology & Religious Studies) who helped organise, prepare students, and facilitate the day. I certainly enjoyed my small part in such a significant and timely event.


Please note: the interpretations and views expressed in this article are my own, and not necessarily representative of any other party. Felicity.


References

Eck, D. L. (2006) ‘What is Pluralism from “Prospects for Pluralism: Voice and Vision in the Study of Religion.” Presidential Address of the American Academy of Religion, 2006. Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 2007;75 (4) :1-34. 

H.R.H. Prince of Wales, Juniper, T. & Skelly, I. (2010) ‘Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World, Harper Collins; UK.

Professor of Practice Tony Juniper: https://www.tonyjuniper.com/

The Harmony Institute: https://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/harmony-institute/

Image (tree): Veeterzy


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