The Harmony Ethic is a system based upon caring for fellow human beings through the expression of deep respect and kindness. This is the way of a harmonious survival. It also emphasizes the presence of choice. To the Cherokee, a person has just as much choice in creating harmony as he or she does in creating disharmony and social disruption.
Life is very precious. Must we have something like a "close call" to realize this? Can we not recognize and embrace the beauty of all life without being splashed in the face by the Great One with a bucket of cold water?
Every life is, indeed, a precious gift to be respected and treated with care. This is not only out of respect for a gift that has been given, but also out of the belief that everything and everyone has a purpose to fulfill during his or her lifetime on Mother Earth. Every person, like every animal, tree, plant, and mineral, possesses some unique quality or talent to be discovered through a variety of experiences in this world. Harmony is the key to meaningful life experiences in which all learning contributes to an overall sense of our life purpose, and to harmony and balance. This purpose is manifested by a striving for the wisdom and generosity exemplified by the Elder who has accumulated a lifetime's worth of experience in the world, and returned once again to the child's first smile. Our Elders have spent much time on Mother Earth, and they have seen much. Many have learned the inner secrets to a harmonious way of life and they are the keepers of this wisdom.
There is something known as the "Harmony Ethic," based on the communal spirit of cooperation and sharing, which guides much of traditional Cherokee living. It is a way of life that gives purpose and direction to much of our interaction in this world. In Cherokee tradition, wellness of the mind, body, spirit, and natural environment is an expression of the proper balance of all things. If we disturb or disrupt the natural balance of ourselves or others, illness may be the result, manifesting in the mind, body, spirit, or natural environment. However, all aspects are affected by such disturbances of the delicate balance as we easily realize when we abuse ourselves or others.
The Harmony Ethic is a way of maintaining the natural harmony and balance that exists within us, and with the world around us. It consists of:
A nonaggressive and noncompetitive approach to life.
This is especially true if the goal of aggression or competition is individual success. If the goal of competition is to benefit the family, clan, tribe, or community, then competition is considered acceptable. Intertribal sports competitions, for example, can become quite aggressive. Competition or aggression for personal gain, however, is frowned upon.
The use of intermediaries, or a neutral third person,
as a way of minimizing face-to-face hostility and disharmony in interpersonal relations. This involves the conscious avoidance of interpersonal conflict in an attempt to maintain reciprocally harmonious relations with "all one's relations". This is a common strategy in the traditional way for resolution of conflict without upsetting the natural balance of things.
Reciprocity and the practice of generosity.
This occurs even when people cannot afford to be generous. It is the act of giving and of receiving that makes the Circle turn. Being able to share unselfishly frees a person to learn important lessons that are offered in life.
A belief in immanent justice.
This relieves people from feeling the need to control others through direct interference, or to punish others. There is a natural order to things, and, sometimes, there are situations or experiences that are "out of our hands", so to speak. It is very important to be able to release something rather than harm ourselves or others with destructive emotions, thoughts, or actions. There is an old saying that we should never speak ill against another for the wind will carry it to that person, and eventually, the ill will return.
Traditional teachings relate to us how important it is that we move through our lives with courage, humility, respect, and kindness in our heart. All these things signify a deep respect for the gift that we have been given in the breath of life, as well as a respect for all life. Wisdom transcends all circumstance, and ultimately comes from a harmony within the self, and between the self and the universe -- an inner strength derived from the unity of spirit, natural environment, body, and mind. As Douglas Spotted Eagle says, "An Elder once told me that I should always remember: 'All that moves is sacred, only by understanding this can you realize the rhythm of the Earth, and thereby know how to place your feet'."
This article is excerpted from:
Medicine of the Cherokee
by J.T. Garrett and Michael Garrett.
About the Authors
J.T. Garrett, Ed.D., and his son, Michael Garrett, Ph.D., are members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee from North Carolina Asstudents and teachers of Indian Medicine, they draw on the ancient wisdom teachings of their Medicine Elders on the Cherokee Reservation in the Great Smoky Mountains. The Garretts have developed ways to present the "old teachings" to effectively guide people today to appreciate and understand living the "Medicine Way."