Friday, July 8, 2011

The Ying and Yang of Harmony

Harmony means something positive to me, something to strive for, connoting peacefulness and alignment. In music it means a chord; in art, perspective; in nature, balance; in life, peace, getting along. The meaning derives from ancient Greece and from far-eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and the Tao.

It was my PCV friend Emily, an English teacher in Sechuan, China, who gave me another view. In contemporary China, she said, “harmony” has come to mean “don’t rock the boat.” It means don’t question authority, don’t advocate for reform, don’t think out of the box, don’t criticize those in power. It is evoked to avoid change and to promote conformity and uniformity. And indeed there have been dire consequences in modern China for those who dare to upset the “harmony” of the status quo.

I guess this is the ying and yang of “harmony,” although I think Emily would argue with me on this too. Her time in China has given her different insights.

Can we simply say that "everything has its other side," like a coin, including harmony, like male and female, sun and moon, good and evil? So the ying and yang of harmony might be war and peace, intolerance and tolerance, the (seeming) stability of one voice and the cacophony of many voices, the messiness of democracy and the leanness (some would say meanness) of dictatorship?

I’m going ‘round in circles on this one, maybe going too far, especially the closer my thinking veers toward the political realm. I think this is where Emily was coming from, though. There are things about Chinese political life she finds distressing. She's still there, toughing it out. Like PCVs everywhere, she embraces the positive. But she has an interesting perspective on China today, and given it's rising star on the global horizon, I find it fascinating.

So I think about "harmony" and its connotations in different ways now. Food for thought.

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