Living in harmony with those around us

May 17, 2019

I come from a family of seven siblings, all born within nine years. Like with most kids, with virtually no control over our feelings, we fought for space and attention, there was plenty of sibling rivalry, and there was lots of shouting and yelling. But there was a strong bond between us, a natural closeness, an appreciation for each other – and a strong assumption that we all thought the same way.

But as we grew up and started to find ourselves, our style, our own way of thinking, our own friends, our own families, we discovered with a shock that we actually don’t think the same way about many things after all. And, of course, when we’d come together for family events, again there’d be plenty of shouting and yelling.

The fact is, it’s fine to think differently. But how to be different and simultaneously maintain harmony with others who don’t think the same way? Because, for sure, harmony is the key to success in life, whether it’s between two people, among families, in organizations, or between countries.

I think the solution is almost embarrassingly simple: control our speech. What’s in our mind is in our mind, and it’s necessarily private from others. It’s only when we open our mouths that others can hear evidence of it, and that’s when the damage is done.

Sounds easy, but actually it’s incredibly difficult. We need have enough maturity to be conscious of the power of speech, to know that once the words are said, it’s hard to heal the damage. And look at the stress that arguing and harsh speech cause our own self: so much anxiety, guilt, anger, hurt. It’s unbearable!

So why is it so difficult to control our mouths? Why are we compelled to speak whatever we think? It seems that we have a primordial need to be seen and heard and approved of by each other, especially – but not only – by our loved ones. It’s almost as if we don’t think our thoughts are valid until someone else hears them and, crucially, agrees with them. Look at the pain we feel when they don’t!

I can see among me and my siblings that as we’ve grown older and more mature, we’ve grown into our own ways of being in the world and therefore less needy to say everything, less needy to be approved of.

Over the years, we’ve seen the hurt caused by arguing, so each of us has come to same conclusion: there’s this unspoken agreement between the seven of us that, one, we don’t argue with each other – in fact, we carefully avoid bringing up topics that we have different views about – and, two, we never criticize each other behind backs.

Because of this, there’s no damage to be healed, no making up to be done, no guilt and anxiety to deal with. Our minds are happier, lighter, and there’s more space for good feelings. So when we’re together, we genuinely enjoy each other’s company, we laugh a lot, and we can rejoice in each other’s lives and empathize with the problems.

And the fact is, there is so much we still have in common. We express ourselves in different ways – I’m a Buddhist nun; Judy is a lawyer helping the victims of abusive priests; Tony is a chiropractor; Polly is an artist; Marie is a grandmother; Jan has recently retired from running an art gallery; Julie volunteers her skill as a graphic designer for non-profits – but the fundamentals of morality and goodness, of being accountable for our own actions, and of the need to be of benefit to others are shared and acknowledged between us.

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