Sunday, January 8, 2006

Misunderstanding Balance & Harmony

While Taoism has no creeds, rituals, declarations or officially-sanctified doctrines, it does center around two congruent concepts: balance and harmony. I try to relate this perspective, both on this blog and in the comments I leave on other blogs. Over the past year, however, I've come to experience far too many times when it's abundantly clear that a great number of people don't truly understand what is meant by these two words in relation to our world and society.

The most common critique I encounter is that harmony and balance are mechanisms employed by those of us who seek to drive society towards the middle. It has been suggested to me, more times than I care to count, that what we (e.g., Taoists, environmentalists, socialists, liberals, etc.) want to root out is individuality. We want everyone to live in the same size house, drive the same type of cars and earn about the same kind of wage.

In a word, according to many, all balance and harmony will bring is a mad race toward mediocrity.

I believe the problem with this wide disparity of understanding boils down to the level of dimensional thinking. For people who hold a one-dimensional, fundamentalist view of the world, the concept of balance is seen as achieving the middle between two counteracting weights or forces. In essence, it's the attempt to negate both, leaving one in the nebulous middle.

Harmony is thus viewed as a mere repackaging of the word, balance. Taken separately or together, these concepts strike at the heart of the Christian ethos of dominion over the world and the capitalist mantra of a constant drive for ever-increasing profit. People who support the concepts of balance and harmony must therefore by non-Christians and socialists.

While, in many cases, this is an apt description (it certainly describes me), it is by no means a universal definition. I have many friends who are both Christian AND capitalists who still embrace the concepts of balance and harmony.

So, what differentiates them from others?

From my perspective, those of us who embrace these ideals view the world in multi-dimensions, not one. For us, balancing and harmonizing aren't linear exercises of counteracting only two variables. We view the world as an organism with billions and billions (actually far more than that) interrelated parts and processes. And it is because we view the world as a vast mosaic that the drive toward balance and harmony will rarely, if ever, land one in the middle.

One way to illustrate this point is to think in terms of music. From a one-dimensional perspective, counteracting all the notes and voices save one leaves a sterile monotone. Any song or piece of music that is robbed of its complexity and diversity loses the essential qualities necessary to call it music. (Imagine a barbershop quartet in which all four singers sang the same note in the same pitch for the entirety of the "song".) If this represents the way a person views the world, then it's quite understandable why someone would resist it and condemned it.

Fortunately, music is not one-dimensional. The notes, pitches and/or voices meld together to create something pleasing to the ear and spirit. In this instance, harmony and balance don't mean negating anything but enhancing everything!

And so it is for the world at large. Balance and harmony don't lead down the road to mediocrity but to a dynamic reality. It doesn't mean everything must be the same or strikingly similar; instead it means that everything must fit together to create one essence, one world, one reality.



  1. The concept of balance and harmony is quite profound and your analogy is a masterful way of explaining a somewhat nebulus position and/or condition.

  2. What a beautiful post. Thank you.


Comments are unmoderated, so you can write whatever you want.