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BacchusSpiegeloog 419: Harmony

Bacchus: Harmony is overrated

This week, while procrastinating to study by browsing Instagram and news websites, I came to feel like there has been an increase in articles, infographics and posts somewhere along the line of “Happiness is a state of mind” or “How to live in harmony with yourself”. This is probably a very subjective assessment, but reading those posts and articles did not really provoke the need for harmony in me. Rather, it made me think: Why are people so focused on living in harmony all the time? And have they always been? Is complete harmony even feasible? I came to think of three hypotheses why so many people seem to value that concept so highly – and what might be wrong with that.

First, however, we need to define harmony. The Oxford dictionary describes harmony as “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts”. Personally, I already feel like it might be very hard to have ‘real order’ or a ‘pleasing arrangement of parts’ when there are human beings involved. Other people make our life chaotic – but they also make it interesting. However, whether you think that being in harmony with the people around you and yourself and constantly feeling inner peace is the one way to happiness – or you disagree with this completely, it can certainly not hurt to question this desire for ‘harmony’. So here are my (very unscientific and subjective) hypotheses.

Hypothesis 1: It is easier to accept the status quo – but that’s very privileged.

The author of the one article writes “You cannot change what people think, do or expect, but you can change your own thoughts and expectations” and I certainly agree with the second part of the sentence. However, I do not agree with the first. As soon as we give up believing that we can change the people around us and by that consequently the circumstances and the world that we live in, we have already lost. Following this attitude, war, hunger and climate crisis have already won.

Personally, I also feel that it’s a very self-centered and privileged view as well. Especially from the viewpoint of people living in democratic, developed countries, having a job, a place to live in, and enough food at home, “accepting how everyone around you behaves and just changing your attitude” sounds very feasible. But as soon as you are part of any minority, are threatened by other parts of society or the state itself, or live in unbearable circumstances (thinking about hunger, poverty and other deprivation of basic needs), the ‘acceptance’-concept does not seem very acceptable and easy anymore.

Hypothesis 2: The misconception of conflict (I am who I am).

Usually, the word conflict is rather negatively connotated, and often seen as the opposite of harmony. As I already scratched on in the first point, harmony brings an acceptance of what is, rather than the need to change something. It is consequently also not an initiator of drive – sadly also not the drive to make things better. Framed from a contra-harmony perspective: There is no change without conflict. Nothing changes without conflicting thoughts, neither in oneself – nor in talks with others. We need conflict to thrive – also in ourselves. The tension of difference can be a catalyst for learning, change, decision making and creativity. It matters to the performance of both individuals and groups. And if we do not accept any disagreement or tension we are not supporting a social (or inner) space in which people are being true to themselves and honest with each other. There are many people promoting peace, acceptance and calmness but I rarely ever come across anybody promoting the benefits of conflict and contradiction.

Hypothesis 3: Preference for the all or nothing principle.

Harmony and conflict are often treated as dichotomic principles. Either complete harmony with yourself and others, or total conflict. However, the balance of things might be the way to go. Episodic harmony is a more achievable goal – but a constant state is not. Most things in life change at some point, life phases and moods are episodic, so why shouldn’t harmony? And while episodes of conflict and differences bring tension into relationships and groups, it is also natural to deal with them and wait for them to subside. Clearly we need to be able to handle it in a functional way, we do not want ongoing conflict and fighting, but the tension of difference is both natural and can be a valuable thing as well.

So instead of pursuing complete harmony, we should accept the conflict and tensions in our life (to a certain degree) and might even be able to turn it into something positive (or at least into a learning experience). The “real harmony” might lie in the balance of things, when we accept that the concept is adaptable and that it is okay to have negativity and tension in our life. <<

This week, while procrastinating to study by browsing Instagram and news websites, I came to feel like there has been an increase in articles, infographics and posts somewhere along the line of “Happiness is a state of mind” or “How to live in harmony with yourself”. This is probably a very subjective assessment, but reading those posts and articles did not really provoke the need for harmony in me. Rather, it made me think: Why are people so focused on living in harmony all the time? And have they always been? Is complete harmony even feasible? I came to think of three hypotheses why so many people seem to value that concept so highly – and what might be wrong with that.

First, however, we need to define harmony. The Oxford dictionary describes harmony as “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts”. Personally, I already feel like it might be very hard to have ‘real order’ or a ‘pleasing arrangement of parts’ when there are human beings involved. Other people make our life chaotic – but they also make it interesting. However, whether you think that being in harmony with the people around you and yourself and constantly feeling inner peace is the one way to happiness – or you disagree with this completely, it can certainly not hurt to question this desire for ‘harmony’. So here are my (very unscientific and subjective) hypotheses.

Hypothesis 1: It is easier to accept the status quo – but that’s very privileged.

The author of the one article writes “You cannot change what people think, do or expect, but you can change your own thoughts and expectations” and I certainly agree with the second part of the sentence. However, I do not agree with the first. As soon as we give up believing that we can change the people around us and by that consequently the circumstances and the world that we live in, we have already lost. Following this attitude, war, hunger and climate crisis have already won.

Personally, I also feel that it’s a very self-centered and privileged view as well. Especially from the viewpoint of people living in democratic, developed countries, having a job, a place to live in, and enough food at home, “accepting how everyone around you behaves and just changing your attitude” sounds very feasible. But as soon as you are part of any minority, are threatened by other parts of society or the state itself, or live in unbearable circumstances (thinking about hunger, poverty and other deprivation of basic needs), the ‘acceptance’-concept does not seem very acceptable and easy anymore.

Hypothesis 2: The misconception of conflict (I am who I am).

Usually, the word conflict is rather negatively connotated, and often seen as the opposite of harmony. As I already scratched on in the first point, harmony brings an acceptance of what is, rather than the need to change something. It is consequently also not an initiator of drive – sadly also not the drive to make things better. Framed from a contra-harmony perspective: There is no change without conflict. Nothing changes without conflicting thoughts, neither in oneself – nor in talks with others. We need conflict to thrive – also in ourselves. The tension of difference can be a catalyst for learning, change, decision making and creativity. It matters to the performance of both individuals and groups. And if we do not accept any disagreement or tension we are not supporting a social (or inner) space in which people are being true to themselves and honest with each other. There are many people promoting peace, acceptance and calmness but I rarely ever come across anybody promoting the benefits of conflict and contradiction.

Hypothesis 3: Preference for the all or nothing principle.

Harmony and conflict are often treated as dichotomic principles. Either complete harmony with yourself and others, or total conflict. However, the balance of things might be the way to go. Episodic harmony is a more achievable goal – but a constant state is not. Most things in life change at some point, life phases and moods are episodic, so why shouldn’t harmony? And while episodes of conflict and differences bring tension into relationships and groups, it is also natural to deal with them and wait for them to subside. Clearly we need to be able to handle it in a functional way, we do not want ongoing conflict and fighting, but the tension of difference is both natural and can be a valuable thing as well.

So instead of pursuing complete harmony, we should accept the conflict and tensions in our life (to a certain degree) and might even be able to turn it into something positive (or at least into a learning experience). The “real harmony” might lie in the balance of things, when we accept that the concept is adaptable and that it is okay to have negativity and tension in our life. <<

Anne Sophie Giacobello

Author Anne Sophie Giacobello

Anne Sophie (1996) specialised in Brain and Cognition in her third year of psychology. She likes thinking about the connections between psychology, politics and society and never leaves the house without her journal, a pen and her current read.

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