“No doubt, unity is something to be desired, to be striven for, but it cannot be willed by mere declarations.”
– Theodore Bikel
We face a crisis of divisiveness which threatens to destroy our country, communities, and even our homes. Far too many are aware of it and responding by digging deeper into the points which divide us. They choose unity only as rallying points of us vs. them. There are critical issues worthy of attention for certain, but the method and mindset are crucial if we are to approach these topics reasonably and avoid disastrous consequences.
I’m constantly embroiled in the struggle to find the right approach in this emotionally charged time. I agree with Theodore Bikel: it will not be resolved by declarations, but rather by individual actions of personal accountability.
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
As people, we have so much more in common than different. Yet too often we focus on the differences first and begin the process of improperly emphasizing these differences. Without establishing a framework of commonality from which to have trust or understanding, we dig into those divisions and forge deeper trenches across from which we neither build nor often desire a bridge of trust or understanding. Without that framework of commonality, of humanity which encompasses the kindness, empathy and desire to communicate open-mindedly, we are assured there is little chance for giving or receiving trust. Without trust, it is an unlikely proposition to hear, understand, and consider the value in a different perspective. Without trust we are unlikely to successfully share our own perspectives given a similar lack of listening, understanding, and consideration. Instead we are likely to simply be cast in opposition as a member of opposing sides.
“Talent perceives differences; genius, unity.”
– William Butler Yeats
Ironically, this is part of the linear lie. We do not tend to have viewpoints that align one way or another in diametric opposition. We are three-dimensional beings with a myriad of perspectives on the diverse topics with many scales of intensity to the aspects of those beliefs. People we might consider beside us in one aspect are undoubtedly divergent in others. Similarly, those we might consider with often hostile passions in one area hold beliefs strongly akin to ours in other fundamental points.
Why, then, do we so readily try to line up in extremes of opposition? There are many influences in our world that attempt to motivate us into these alignments because it is so powerful an emotional factor to simulate a false unity by suggesting an adversarial counterpart to unite against. We react quickly and all too easily to the emotional surges. There’s a near-endless stream of cleverly crafted content to induce or sustain outrage. All of this serves to inhibit our taking the time to allow our reactions to be converted into the more considered responses necessary for difficult discussions. We lose the ability to find the commonality and work towards the divergence to understand why and how different approaches exist and to evaluate them with cautious consideration emphasizing those qualities of humanity we all may choose at the individual level.
Our diversity can generate strength in a broad spectrum of perspectives, but only if we can interact with a focus on sufficient trust and kindness to enable considered evaluations and resolutions. Knowing when each of us moves out of this approach and deliberately and mindfully choosing an accountability for ourselves and our peers are vital steps in declining the divisiveness while embracing the positive aspects of diversity.
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Despite each of our best efforts to moderate our behaviors, we will undoubtedly encounter those who react in entirely unreasonable ways. For many, there are reasons behind their words and actions. If we truly want to build unity, it is most likely found by gaining understanding why they are making those choices. To get there, we have to be earnest in our willingness to hear and ask more than our intent to share our views with them. There’s a time for that once we understand their “why.”
It may not be an easy or quick learning and the process may test us. There may even be some for whom we cannot learn or reach an acceptable comfort of understanding or communication. We can still be the example of humanity in our approach that may be planting seeds of positive promise for the future. We can still be the best version of ourselves and while rejecting all that is wrong, manage with the grace of kindness, compassion, and courage.
I choose to take this approach for myself and yet I do not succeed nearly often enough. Still, I strive to achieve it as a goal. I strive to be aware of when I am acting or reacting inappropriately. In my failures I come back to my simple “ABC” approach:
A: Awareness – Be mindful of yourself and check in deliberately, frequently, and gently
B: Breathe – Take several deep breaths to calm yourself and gain necessary time to step back
C: Consider – How and why are you reacting? What response is best for the situation?
While I may not fully succeed, by striving there is more success than in complacency. The ideal is well phrased in a final quote which is part of the accountability I desire for myself in my interactions with others. My friend Rachel Morris shared this with me many years ago. Each time I read it I am more convinced they are the right words for me and the quest for unity.
“I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.
― Mahatma Gandhi