Harmony vs conformity: thirsting for things that fit

I truly believe an element of the divine can be experienced in a stationery shop. Kikki K, surely, must be a shadow of heaven.

This is me with the old manila folders that I ordered by colour, just because, when we were clearing out our archives at work:

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I know many of you understand.

There is something hugely satisfying about order, about making things fit together so perfectly. It’s exhilirating and therapeutic, thrilling and calming, all at once.

We get a similar sense of satisfaction from any number of things, such as:

  • those kids toys where you have to put the square peg in the square hole and the triangle peg in the triangle hole
  • when you hear (or better still, when you create) a perfect harmony of voices
  • when you find a pair of jeans that fits your thighs AND your butt AND your hips

And the same is true relationally. When you go to a job interview and they tell you you’re “a good fit” for the organisation. Or when you find a beach volleyball partner who complements your playing style, and you make a good team together. Or when you meet or hang out with someone and all the synapses in your brain light up because you’re on the same wavelength.

Recently I read the synopsis of a book that describes sex and sexual desire as the expression of a yearning for wholeness. And it seems particularly poignant to me that wholeness – self-fulfilment – is found not in isolation, or even in independence, but in union and unity, in interdependence.

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Image credit: Paloma A.

The satisfaction of relational fit, I suspect, goes beyond a desire to belong and to be part of a community. Taking a large step back from our immediate relationships, the (admittedly abstract) idea of harmony speaks to that.

Surely it’s no coincidence that we use the same word to talk about social cohesion as we do to talk about artistic cohesion – for example, in music or architecture.

IMG_8525.jpgCopenhagen has really mastered the art of balancing old and new architecture with each other and with nature. I was particularly enthralled by Krøyers Plads in Christianhavn. It sits so harmoniously at the water’s edge and beside the North Atlantic House (on the left, above), a warehouse built in 1767 and now a cultural centre.

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The Royal Danish Playhouse (above) across the water from Krøyer Plads is also a gorgeous contemporary building that’s been designed with a mind to its harbour setting and the historic architecture in the Nyhavn area.

Sadly, we often substitute true harmony for conformity. (There’s architecture in that vein, too, but I’d rather not include any pictures of that). When we talk about “fitting in” we’re usually talking about becoming like everybody else.

I see that when I reflect on high school and generally being a teenager. Peer pressure – during puberty and well into the endless comparisons that adults get into, trying to “keep up with the Joneses” – is a force pushing us towards conformity. Peer pressure is prescriptive in telling you exactly what you need to wear, what and how much you need to drink, the way you need to talk, the phone you need to buy, the trendy cafe you need to frequent, the kind of home you need to own.

I don’t believe it’s a contradiction to desire harmony while rejecting conformity. I think of social minorities – be they ethnic, religious, sexual, whatever. We yearn to fully express our uniqueness and for that difference to be not just tolerated or accepted, but to be valued and needed. Sometimes we’re so desperate for this we make ourselves as provocatively different as possible, as if challenging society to LOVE ME.

Again, wholeness – self-fulfilment – is found not in isolation, or even in independence, but in union and unity, in interdependence.

So, what if we focused on listening to others, on loving others better, on seeing the imprint of the divine in our neighbour? Couldn’t that, in fact, be transformative in our own self-awareness? What if our best selves were revealed in understanding who we are in relation to others, to creation, to God?

What if belonging at work, on a sports team, in a friendship circle, in a relationship, didn’t come down to mere providence but to a mutual intention to find how we can all fit together? What if we built our social circles and our society as mindfully as Copenhagen designs and constructs its new buildings?

Maybe then we’d enjoy some life-giving fragments of harmony – the kind of interpersonal harmony that produces a satisfaction deeper and more lasting than colour-coordinated manila folders, square pegs in square holes, exquisitely combined singing voices or perfect-fit jeans.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal … your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.

– C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Any comments, thoughts? I'd love to hear from you :)

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