We can throw the word ‘unity’ around like confetti. It sounds good, it’s got wholesome vibes. I don’t know about you, but even though it’s a word I happily use, I’ve never really stopped to give it much thought. I tend to have a vague idea of it being a nice feeling, and of people who agree with you.
It’s a small word and I think that, as so often happens with language, a concept will quickly outgrow the five-letter constraints we try to box it in.
It’s easy to love people when they agree with you. But can unity draw us together when there is nothing left to gather around beyond the fact that I’m a human and you’re a human?
The real power of unity doesn’t lie in creating an absence of differences, making everyone think the same. That’s too high a price to pay. It’s power lies in the way it can happen despite differences, despite diversity. In the way it steps out of its safe little club of likeminded souls and bravely makes its way across a void of differing opinions, willing to talk, but willing to listen.
The more we interact with people, the more heavily our lives can get saturated with tension and division. Catching myself in the mirror, I realise how quick I can be to use the label ‘ignorant’ or ‘narrow-minded’ towards views that differ from mine. Laziness will mutter phrases like ‘what an idiot’ (usually instead of listening), and act as if I don’t share equality with the people I’m aiming them at. Under the impression that I’m doing my part to stand up for what’s right (by which of course I mean what I think is right), am I actually just pushing the gap wider, creating my own little brand of division?
It takes bravery to listen to the other side of an opinion. It means facing the fear that, once we do, the world might not look quite the way we thought it did. We might be forced to more closely inspect the brushstrokes of our worldview. How many are assumed or inherited, already on our canvas when we began, or painted from someone else’s memory?
No real unity can exist without listening, and without love. And if we are too scared to let our values and beliefs be challenged by what others have to say, then we never give them the opportunity to truly become our own. They will stay fragile, in need of constant pampering, indulging, and protecting.
But what about when someone disagrees with a value or belief that is deeply profound to us? Listening to people doesn’t mean condoning what they say. And maintaining unity doesn’t mean that we have to agree, it doesn’t mean we can’t have our say. It isn’t a debate about tolerance or intolerance, and it isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing. It is about how we treat others, how we deal with conflict and division. We can still stand up for what we believe to be right or fair, or start a conversation about where our views differ. There will definately be times when we need to stand up and do that loudly, defending people, values or truths. But taking away a person’s voice is never the answer to a conflict, nor is just talking over, or louder than, them.
We can’t expect people to listen to and take an interest in our views if we aren’t willing to listen to and take an interest in theirs. It helps us not to respond to hate with hate, or prejudice with prejudice. It helps us to break the cycle and start something new. A new conversation. One that can take us forward, into new understanding, and hopefully, a new unity.