Two special days are celebrated this week. International Day of Peace on 21 September and South Africa’s Heritage Day on 24 September. One acknowledges the absence of conflict and how it enables an environment of calm and order. The other celebrates the colour and energy of a very diverse society, but also one where conflict is at the order of the day. Can diversity and harmony meet in some way or another?
Peace, when seen as the absence of conflict, also translates as harmony. While much of the conflict in our society can be blamed on how different we are, Heritage Day in South Africa not only celebrates our different backgrounds, but also seeks for harmony within our country’s exceptional diversity.
Variety is said to be the spice of life and I find cosmopolitan environments fascinating. We all know, however, that it is much easier to find harmony in an environment with less diversity. It might be a little less interesting, but it is easier when we are from similar backgrounds and tastes and preferences. Having said that, even within most families, we can be very different and everyday family life can easily lack harmony. How difficult is it then to find a place of harmony or peace?
Conflict is all around us – the most extreme recent example being the war between Russia and Ukraine, but there are also conflict in Ethiopia and Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran…. (Read more) In South Africa, with its eleven official languages and a very diverse population, we see everyday conflict, especially when promoted by populist politics. Just recently, even among families, we’ve been in conflict over Covid and vaccinations, we have different views on climate change, gender issues and religion.
Perhaps it is not about finding a serene landscape and conflict free space. It might rather be about our reaction to different opinions and tastes and ideas. I don’t think harmony is about us all being the same, it is however about respecting another’s opinion without having to compromise your own. Being confident enough about your own convictions to not be threatened by anything that differs from yours.
Sometimes we find harmony in the simplest things. You see people dropping their kids off at school. Some drove to school in fancy cars, some walked, some in the latest fashion, some in traditional and conservative attire, but they all want their kids to get the best education. Later, they all want to enjoy dinner, regardless of what that dinner is and how it is prepared or enjoyed and then go to bed feeling safe, regardless of the type of roof over their heads. There is harmony in humanity.
South Africans have realised a little something of this in their celebration of Heritage Day or as it is often referred to, Braai Day. We might braai with different ingredients and use different methods and we might even get defensive about the “right” way to braai, but all of us enjoy lighting a fire. It is such a simple gesture, but when you light a fire, you invite others to come closer, to share in each other’s humanity and find a little harmony (or peace), regardless of our diversity.