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On Harmony

Editor’s note: This is a different sort of column for “Ask Damian Erskine” than usual. Given what’s happening in the world, Damian wanted to use this platform to share some other thoughts this time around.

On Harmony
Photo by Dennis Weiskircher

I spend quite a bit of time traveling both within the U.S. and abroad. As of this moment, I have been on a month-long trip that has brought me through Canada, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Cyprus, and I’m currently in Lebanon. Before this trip, I was in Hong Kong. In a few months, I’ll be in Shanghai. This isn’t to tell you how well traveled I am, but rather to express something that keeps popping into my head while I pay attention to the news from both back home and other recent events in the world.

People are the same wherever you go. We are one species with a variety of physical characteristics and melanin levels that are primarily result of evolution and natural selection, and based on the climate we live in. We are one people with many variations of color and culture. Be aware of these cultural differences. Be respectful and also celebrate them.

I am no sociologist or evolutionary scientist. I am no politician or activist. I don’t pretend to begin to understand geopolitical machinations or any historical precedence for hatred between one community or another. I am an artist who has seen a relatively small percentage of the world, and I simply want to encourage all of us to release ourselves from our fears (as I believe this is where many of our problems originate) and judge everybody on an individual basis. Assume the best of each other until someone proves themselves to be unworthy of your respect. And still, in that case, just move on… don’t waste energy or time on hatred as it only breeds more hatred. You cannot fight hate with hate.

One of my best friends and favorite drummers was in Nice, France the other day when the recent, tragic event happened. Thankfully, he and everybody in the band he was traveling with are fine, but it left me with a sinking feeling in my gut that he could have been taken from his family because somebody decided to do what they did. A decision based on hatred and resentment, in my opinion (no matter who’s name it is supposedly done in).

The thing is, nobody believes that they are the bad guy. We each feel justified by our life circumstances, history, trauma, repression, anger, fear… I can usually understand where someone is coming from if I look with compassion and see things from their perspective. There are at least two sides to every conflict and the thing is, they are all valid to some degree when looked at in the context of their lives. It is always the innocents who pay the price, though.

On my last flight, I couldn’t stop smiling because I was watching three Muslim teenage girls in burqas, tickle-fighting on the plane. There was such joy and innocence there and the thought occurred to me that there are people I know, love and respect who would cast with a weary eye if they passed them on the street. I have been on the road and pulled over by police and have seen first-hand how differently black citizens are sometimes treated than white citizens (one instance in particular comes to mind and the black musician was by far the sweetest, kindest, fellow man-loving human in the bunch, yet he was still assumed to be a bad egg in the group because his skin was dark).

I spent last week in Cyprus, where the island is divided between the North and South – a Turkish side and a Greek side. I spent time on both sides, played music with both Turkish and Greek Cypriots, went to coffee shops and sat among the locals, tried to order things with shop keepers who didn’t speak much English… And you know what? Every single person I encountered was incredibly sweet, patient and full of love.

These people have nothing to do with the power plays of their governments. They all just want to live, love and provide for their families as best as they can.

I also have many friends from around the world who have a deep-seated fear and hatred of one specific group or another – almost as if everyone in the world is a brother; except for that one group of people. Because of something their governments did with their armies sometime in history. I don’t understand it, I don’t condone it, but I understand where it comes from. It comes from seeing your loved ones marginalized and brutalized by another set of people. And this hate breeds hate for centuries. Back and forth to no end.

We need to evolve.

Even the kindest and most mindful of us can hold deep biases and fears towards an entire race of people without being entirely aware of it. We must make it a conscious decision to be better than we are, no matter how good we think we are.

Almost every country has at least one group of people who are looked down upon and actively marginalized due to some historical event. In each case I encounter, I am astonished because I know people of that region and can’t imagine coming away with that impression. And then I go somewhere else and – no it’s not those people – it’s really these other people that are “lazy, thieving, morally corrupt, bad people.” I just shake my head. I try to remain respectful of whatever history there may be but try and respectfully give my two cents.

As far as I can tell, we are taught to love or hate. I think that it is time that we humans very actively try to foster love in our communities and love for our fellow man, regardless of where he is from or what he looks like.

There will always be bad people, ignorant people, hateful people but we need to always remember to tip the scales as best as we can.

I am not very knowledgeable about many of the things I am thinking about as I write this. I am not the speaker or writer that I wish I was a. I write this, but I have spent much of the past few decades traveling, playing, teaching and hanging with people from every corner of the globe, and of every shade of white and brown, and I am here to say that we are the same. Love each other, be good to each other, smile at each other, help each other… slowly change the world’s opinion of you be being the better person, if someone acts against you.

I wish I had better words but I decided to just let them flow and put it out there.

I love you all. Be safe, be well and be cool to each other.