A blogger friend of mine recently addressed the subject of unity. This got me to thinking: Our nation is called the United States of America, but in some ways it seems we’ve never been more divided. Perhaps – and I tread gently as I say this – even more divided than during the days leading up to and during the Civil War.
Politics, an arena in which compromise and negotiation once seemed possible and desirable, has become divided to such an extreme the only common ground is agreement that “never the twain shall meet.” Achieving “middle ground” appears as realistic as crossing the chasm between the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon with a pogo stick.
Ideologies concerning gender, socio-economics, beliefs, lifestyles and even race despite progress we’ve celebrated since the 1960s, seem just as severely separated. Other divisions currently afflicting our once proudly United States come to mind. Perhaps national spell-check got confused and switched the spelling to “untied.”
Without intending to sound simplistic, one factor in these growing disunions could be confusion between unity and uniformity. The differences are considerable.
I remember back in the ‘60s – yes, I’m old enough to recall them. Those were days when the hippie generation and young people across the country were attempting to display unity by length of hair, clothes they wore (and didn’t wear), the music they listened to, and the vocabulary they spoke. But as they conformed to their unique brand of non-conformity, what they really demonstrated was not unity but uniformity.
Bell-bottom pants, tie-dyed shirts, determination to be “out of sight” (which morphed into “far out”), espousing the virtues of free sex, the pressure to “turn on and tune out,” along with a resolve to “question authority,” had many of us marching in the lockstep of uniformity for a time. Conformed to a singular image of non-conformity, but united? Not really. For the most part, everyone was just looking out for themselves in the comfort of a crowd.
Seeds of that era have spawned current versions of uniformity (political correctness) and disunity (intolerance of anyone holding a view contrary to your own opinions and ideology).
Maybe it would be good to grasp the differences between uniformity and unity, recognizing that while a house divided against itself cannot stand, as Jesus stated in Mark 3:25, all the parts of the house don’t need to be identical.
It’s amazing how, in one way or another, the Bible talks about unity and its importance. It presents unity in terms of teamwork: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17) and “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work…. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12).
When God created man and woman, He did so to provide unity and a complement for the other. Uniformity obviously was not the goal. As the French saying goes, “Vive la difference”!
And writing to believers in the ancient city of Philippi, the apostle Paul placed great emphasis on unity. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his hope, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1-4).
That’s an intriguing definition of what unity should look like. At the same time, Paul made clear this unity did not require uniformity. In fact, uniformity would have impeded unity. He wrote, using the metaphor of the human body to describe the Church, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body…. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
So how can we once again become united in the midst of diversity, truly United States without having to become Uniform States? As the apostle wrote above, stop focusing on our own interests, cultivate true humility, and strive to become one in spirit and purpose. Emphasize the common bonds that can unite us rather than the differences that can divide us.
Hardly a complete solution, but it could be a great start.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.