Unity is one of those words we often use in situations where we hope to resolve conflict. Lord knows the world needs more of it. New democracies in the Middle East, the banking system in London, the struggling Euro and the ongoing debt crisis in the European Union (not to mention the troubles with the economy in the U.S.): It’s as if the world is falling apart and coming together again at the same time. Well, it is.
Every one of these global challenges offers as much, or more, opportunity for growth and success as they do risk of collapse and failure. When we layer the concept of unity on these problems, it doesn’t have to mean uniformity. Unity means the joining together of separate things. Uniformity means sameness. It would seem an elevated understanding of real unity requires pairing the word with another one that represents the distinctiveness of the world’s separate cultures and ethnic groups: Unity with diversity.
Language is the medium of culture. According to Ethnologue, a service organization that tracks global languages, there are more than 6,000 active languages in the world with half of them spoken by at least 10,000 people. So while unity with diversity is, admittedly, an evolving concept, one barrier to unity is not being able to talk to one another. The world needs one universal second language that everyone accepts as the lingua franca of the 21st century.
There are reasons for our differences, our separateness. Along with the multiple languages we understand and use, there are also political, religious and generational differences. Geographical distance from one another also contributes to our sense of separateness. But these should never be excuses for suspicion over trust or apprehension over understanding.
People yearn for consensus and long to be whole. We all seek unity with others and yet…and yet, sometimes, we are unwilling to align ourselves completely with community. Fearful, perhaps, of the very thing we desire most. Apprehensive that in reaching for a common identity we will pass over our important distinctions. The danger is that when we give in to these fears we withdraw into the particulars of our lesser affiliations.
The Bible remarks ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity,’* and goes on to describe the sensations of God’s blessing as a result. Baha’is believe that diversity ‘distinguishes unity from homogeneity or uniformity’ and that our modern-day problems represent a ‘collective coming-of-age.’ Through this process of maturation, ‘the principle of unity in diversity will find full expression.’**
* The Bible, New International Version, Psalms, 133:1.
** Prosperity of Humankind, Baha’i International Community, pages 3-4.