The Funny Thing About Harmony

In Asian culture, or rather Eastern Asian culture, truth and honesty aren’t necessarily the most important societal values. Neither are integrity, compassion, intelligence, generosity, love, success, or loyalty. Nor greed, status, materialism, or hatred. The overwhelming value, as well as the criterion, is harmony or a facsimile of harmony.

In many ways, in many different areas of my life, I’ve always felt the need to have harmony, I don’t like to fight…I don’t have a problem in telling you the truth, my truth, but I don’t like to fight or be surrounded by fighting. I will swallow my tongue if that seems to be the best, but if I feel there’s an injustice occurring, there’s a 99% chance I’ll say at least something.

Something that I’ve noticed in my office, one of my co-workers, we’ll call her Kim, isn’t really a nice person, the majority of the time if she says something to someone it’s to: (1) insult them, (2) make them feel bad, or (3) instigate a fight with others. She has the advantage with two of my other co-workers because she’s 10 years older than them, although she has no experience in her current job or at our school, but those little facts don’t stop her. Others in the office don’t really like her, she’s greedy, at lunch she’s more than likely to have an overflowing plate of food, while most everyone else is being respectful and the last two or three people have to settle for rice and kimchi. When people bring food to the office to share with everyone, which she has never done, she’s first in line to get food and to eat as much as possible.

But because no one in the office is of a higher rank, say head of special subjects, no one can say anything to her about her behavior, not even the teachers with more teaching experience or who are just plain older than her. Because accordingly to Korean societal mores, we’re all the same rank, and those mores which she ignores, keep the rest of the office from telling her to stop or at least refrain.

So the point of not being able to say anything is to promote “harmony” within the office, home, etc. but with the strained feelings (hard ones, too). There seems to be a huge elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to notice, which of course makes it bigger and that makes everyone more uncomfortable.

It’s a struggle for me. On one hand, I definitely appreciate and crave to an extent harmony in the atmosphere/environment/room, but on the other hand, there is some behavior that is inexcusable and you have every right to say something about it, especially if the person in question is abusing their position or authority. But as a kyopo there are things that no matter how bad, wrong, immoral, unethical they are, I have to hold my breath because I’m still Korean, especially on the outside, where it sometimes counts more than anything, after “harmony.”

So obviously, at least to me, harmony is definitely a value to be upheld, something to aim for, so then why would you work so hard to maintain “harmony,” a situation where almost everyone holds a grudge or at least one bad thought against someone else and definitely everyone knows it and allows it to continue and fester, because it appears to be harmony? How does this make the office, the workplace, the home, the friendship better? The funny thing about harmony is that sometimes it’s not even harmony at all, it’s really just pretty looking resentment.

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