Harmony: a place to live or a place to live from?

Friday 01.12.17

Thoughts on Harmony: Part 1 of 3

This past summer Mikey and I were driving up Highway 1 on an intentional adventure. Halfway between Cayucas and Cambria, my eye caught a sign: Harmony, Population 18.

Only eighteen people living in Harmony? What! That attention-grabbing sign reflects one of the most common tensions I see: each of us wants harmony, within ourselves and in our work, homes, and world.  And yet, we often experience only fleeting glimpses of the peace we desire. How can we invite and cultivate harmony?

When Mikey felt my enthusiasm at finding Harmony, at least it’s physical address, he pulled into a farmer’s rutted driveway and navigated a tricky “RV with car-attached turnaround” to capture the above picture. His dedication sparked my realization that I have at least 163 things I could say about this topic. As I began to frantically scribble notes, I realized I was trying to jam an entire composition into a few bars of melody. In the end, I settled on a three-part series of ruminations on harmony. I welcome your voice to deepen the exploration.

Harmony and Balance

Balance gets a lot of airtime. Everyone is seeking work/life balance or fretting about some imbalance in their lives. In my estimation, balance certainly has its place, yet harmony takes us so much further towards the true peace and fulfillment we seek.

This can be seen even in what Mr. Webster notes in the dictionary definitions:

Balance:  1.  an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady  2.  a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

Harmony:   1.  the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord 2.  progressions having a pleasing effect. agreement or concord.

Balance is singular where harmony is richly layered, flowing and full of movement.  Harmony acknowledges and honors the unique expression in service to a beautiful composition.

Balance also runs the risk of advocating for sameness in an effort to simplify the complex notion of “fair” into a scalable solution. The same discipline for different children, the same lunch for different bellies, the same amount of time on different work projects. That kind of sameness not only limits the greatness of each individual to a  common mediocre it also breeds contortion and the unhealthy forms of competition.

I’m not bashing balance. It has its places. Trust me, I could use more of it when I do yoga! And there are many places were sameness and scale matter. I’m simply proposing that in much of our lives and work, harmony may be a more rewarding aspiration. Take for instance, Daniel Pink’s long-standing research affirming that human fulfillment and engagement is achieved through autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These important qualities are more easily achieved in a “framework for bringing together unique, disparate parts to work towards a mutual good.”

Elevating the Possibilities of Harmony in Business  

An elementary-school understanding of harmony begins with everyone singing the same notes, at the same time, in the same manner. These fundamentals can be the beginning steps toward the full potential of harmony. But that’s just the basics.

Think of how a business operating on industrial-age machine-based modes works: all cogs operating in the same manner, at the same pace to produce a consistent melody of products. However, a more effective model for today’s workplace is the harmony that occurs in the natural world where each element owns its part, for which it is uniquely designed, for the vibrant growth of a living, evolving ecosystem. Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day, to be valued for who we are and to thrive?

Let’s link it back to music for a moment. In sophisticated musical harmony (like the modern workplace), not all players are doing the same thing. Each musician plays their own part which builds up the whole expression. Without each other, we’d be playing some pretty simple pieces. The ability to layer tones and phrases, instruments and themes is one of the great beauties of orchestral, jazz or rock music. This is community–commUNITY–at its best. Community is where everyone is playing their part, allowing others to do theirs, and benefiting from the swelling, collective goodness that results.

But does true harmony in our relationships always flow with ease, even if all the “right people” are there? Sometimes we are surprised when our tune isn’t the only one, or when someone plays a different instrument. Sometimes it feels awkward. Other times it’s downright maddening.

Is It Possible That Discord Is a Building Block to Ever-Richer Harmony?

Short answer: yes. Harmony is only an option once we risk the vulnerability of authenticity and “using our voice.” If we could hear innovation, it would sound like discord. Market disruption and new ideas create waves. Not all discord is innovation, but all innovation begins as discord.

Discord is an important thing to introduce in music: without dissonance, the piece’s progression is inhibited. It takes courage to create dis-harmony. (For example, being a woman who is more assertive as compared to cultural norms.) Upon hearing those new, unfamiliar notes, the system wants to restore the known, comfortable path. Unfortunately, protecting sameness stifles growth.

If this topic tickles your fancy, or rubs your fur, see post #2 in this series: Harmony & Discord.

Harmony Is Not for Wimps. It Requires Courage.

If you are starting to get excited about the potential of harmony on a personal, interpersonal, and organizational level, then let me be honest. Yes, it can sound beautiful and powerful when we hear harmony at a concert or take our breath away when we see it in nature. Just remember that this work is not for the faint of heart. Literally. Harmony requires courage, which comes from the heart.

It’s also not created overnight or in a few moments between social media posts or texts. The evidence of this can be seen in musical harmony: it takes immense practice, or in nature’s harmony, evolution to grow and mature over time.

I hope these realities do not deter you from the magic of harmony. Its gifts are beyond measure (pun intended).

As always, I like to close with a practice. Given this is the first in a trilogy, we have a chance to practices harmony together. Given that, “I will start at the very beginning, a very fine place to start… (*melody plays in background*):

When there is discord, we may instinctually pull away or plug our ears. Try instead to stay. Just give yourself time in the discomfort. If you can’t be still, you’ll have a harder time picking up the harmony. As Lao Tzu said, “to the Mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.”

22 Comments | MaryCay Durrant |
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