Even though we play different instruments and have different character traits, the human orchestra can create a harmonious melody if we do the following.
1. Stop the Noise
The first step towards a harmonious melody is to stop the noise. If a few people are incessantly banging their drums, scratching their strings, yammering loudly, or playing their own fortissimo tunes without regards to their surroundings, the best intentions of the people around them will not matter.
In the same way, for the human orchestra to generate a melody, we must reduce violent actions and bombastic rhetoric. When things quiet down, there is a potential for something better to emerge.
2. Accept All Instruments
An orchestra wouldn’t be able to create a variety of melodies if everyone played either the fiddle or the trumpet. Different instruments are needed to contrast and complement each other. The human race, with all its different cultures, theologies, and ideologies, has potential to do the same.
In years past, some people could get away with consorting only with those who shared their looks and ideologies. In the modern era, where the sheer number of the planet’s inhabitants is growing year by year and people are moving their cultures with them all around the globe, this is no longer a choice.
The human orchestra is stacked with a variety of instruments. We must accept that.
3. Practice Our Instruments
If musicians don’t practice, they are not able to play together. My friend is a middle school band director and he takes great pleasure in seeing the progression from sixth grade to eighth grade; from the time when the kids enter band without knowing how to play to when they play together in much more harmony.
Each culture, ideology, and theology on Earth has created an ideal of what a good person acts like. William James pointed out that there is very little difference between Stoic, Buddhist and Christian saints, that their lives are practically indistinguishable. That does not mean that there isn’t any difference between these paths, but it does mean that if each individual would pursue and practice the very best of what their culture, theology, and ideology has to offer, from the agnostic humanist to the most fervent Hindu, then humanity would be better off as a whole, just like the orchestra is better off when individual players consistently practice their instruments.
4. Synchronize With Our Surroundings
An orchestra can only produce a captivating melody if all the players are in rhythm. Half of learning to play in an orchestra is about personal dedication; the other half is about synchronization.
Synchronization is not the same as conformity. One approach values the input of many different instruments towards a single melody while the other wants everyone to be the same.
For the human orchestra to be harmonious we must all play our ‘instrument’ to the best of our ability, but we must also synchronize with our surroundings. Sometimes that means shelving our personal preferences for the benefit of the whole.
Everyone synchronizes to some degree in civilized society, but I am guessing all of us (myself included) could do better, both in regards to personal effort and in terms of being in rhythm with others.
(If you need help getting started, several synchronizing efforts already exist that focus on bringing people from different backgrounds together, including, Charter for Compassion, The Parliament of the World’s Religions, United Religions Initiative, The Pluralism Project, The Fetzer Institute, and, locally in Texas, Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT), Austin Interfaith, the Annette Strauss Institute, Compassionate Austin, and our own Harmony Interfaith Initiative. Please feel free to add to this list in the comment section.)
Where the Analogy Falls Apart
As with every good analogy, this one falls apart when we start to take it too literally. It goes without saying that not everyone will be playing the same music, there will be no dictatorial conductor forcing everyone to follow the same rhythm, some people will refuse to play in the band, and so on, but that doesn’t mean that the analogy can’t be beneficial.
As the human orchestra grows in diversity and new instruments are added, we have a couple of choices. We can focus only on ourselves to the exclusion of our surroundings, which will create some form of acrimony, or we can work together towards harmony, starting with ourselves (our own instrument) and then synchronize with people in our surroundings that are also practicing (the orchestra).
This choice isn’t binary between harmony and acrimony because harmony exists on a scale (like every good middle school band director can tell you). Working towards more harmonious relations can mean anything from ceasing hostilities and increased tolerance to neighborly fellowship and everything in between.
If we are able to stop the noise, accept all instruments, practice our own instruments, and synchronize with other players, the human orchestra has a chance to create some beautiful melodies.
Consider the Alternative
Those, who dismiss this notion as idealistic, should consider the alternative. If people sit back, don’t practice their instruments, won’t even try to synchronize, and create brassy dissonance through divisive rhetoric and actions, the human orchestra will keep on playing nonetheless, but the acrimonious discord it will produce will put the sound of nails scratching a blackboard to shame.
It’s Hard Work (but Rewarding)
Naturally, there is a caveat. Any musician will tell you that creating good orchestral music takes hard work. That is also true of the human orchestra. Creating harmony requires active commitment and personal dedication. Thankfully, the process can be rewarding and beneficial.
We can’t control everything in the world, but we can stop the noise (especially if we are making it), accept diversity, practice our chosen path, and synchronize with others who are also trying to play their instruments to the best of their abilities.
Interfaith Minister, Author, and Speaker
Founder of Harmony Interfaith Initiative
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Picture: Pixabay.com CC0 License