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The State of the Union: How Much Real Unity?

Nabil Elias | Mar 25, 2019

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Nabil Elias | Mar 25, 2019

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Many state and national leaders give annual “State of the State” or “State of the Union” addresses, intended to report progress and set economic and political agendas for the coming year.

This tradition, which comes from the old European custom of a monarch’s “Speech from the Throne,” usually involves all branches of government gathering in one place to hear their leader give a prepared address that summarizes the state of the union in a particular kingdom or country. After all, no national entity could continue to exist without union.

So the next time you hear one of these speeches, listen for the word “unity.” These kinds of national addresses almost always invoke, praise and ask for the establishment of unity—but the fractious, hyper-partisan nature of politics often robs unity of its meaning, fostering disunity instead.

Are we really working on establishing unity? So many countries today suffer from hyper-partisanship, political gamesmanship, institutionalized racism, raw political power plays, unbridled corruption, gross economic disparity, and an “us versus them” mentality. Those conditions—which completely contravene all actual unity—prevail because our methods of governance and our partisan politics defeat the very union they’re supposed to uphold. All the while, the governed pay the price of this division and bickering.

Unity can enhance the strength of a nation, but the Baha’i Teachings explain the importance of working towards the unity of the entire human race: “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 288.

Imagine how much stronger and happier a nation—or the world itself—could be if we achieved a greater sense of unity. State of the Union addresses usually tout economic performance, push political agendas and promote national pride. But if unity actually became an explicit goal, intentional hard work could be initiated for society to become less divided along political ideologies or racial lines. The State of the Union speech could then truly address the state of unity in the country, and what is being done to strengthen it.

For example: in addition to economic indicators like the Gross National Product (GNP), State of the Union reports and speeches could include such measures as the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, which Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck began reporting in 1972. More recently, there have been several developments that call for an implementation of similar indexes. For example, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) emphasizes nine core “quality of life” values: fairness, diversity, equity, inclusion, health, safety, economic security, democracy, and sustainability. The intergovernmental Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) developed the Better Life Index and efforts have begun in the United States to develop a Gross National Happiness Index. Similar indicators have already been implemented in Vermont and Maryland.

If State of the Union speeches really promoted unity, we could also learn more about how we develop the human capacities and potentialities of children and youth—which, of course, starts with education.  Baha’u’llah wrote that we should regard every human being as “… a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 260.

We rarely hear much about education in State of the Union speeches, but visionary leaders need to give it a much higher priority. State of the Union messages could inform us about progress being made in refining and developing our educational systems, and how they might better contribute to polishing the gems and releasing the latent talents of everyone in society, regardless of their economic class.

In a real State of the Union message, we could hear about movement towards a healthy society and progress in improving physical and mental health, too. We could learn about the levels and direction of volunteer work, interfaith activities to serve humanity, support of family unity, rehabilitation of prisoners, and accessibility to day care. We could receive reports on programs aimed at reducing levels of separation and divorce, eliminating domestic abuse, eradicating poverty, reducing crime and gun violence, eliminating homelessness, and the implementation of policies and practical steps aimed at dismantling systemic racism and eradicating all forms of prejudice. Can you imagine a State of the Union address that covered those important topics, and the impact it might have on engendering true unity?

From a Baha’i perspective, working towards that sense of union and unity requires that we implant the concept of the oneness of humankind in our minds, hearts and souls. That consciousness of the oneness of humankind is based on the watchword of “unity in diversity.” Baha’u’llah declared that: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 250.

Baha’is believe that:

Unity, in its Baha’i expression, contains the essential concept of diversity, distinguishing it from uniformity. It is through love for all people, and by subordinating lesser loyalties to the best interests of humankind, that the unity of the world can be realized and the infinite expressions of human diversity find their highest fulfilment. – The Universal House of Justice, to the Baha’is of the World, January 18, 2019.

The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith explained that the oneness of humankind proclaimed by Baha’u’llah:

… calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world – a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspirations, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 43.

In an ideal world, a State of the Union address—no matter what country it described—would report on the progress being made by elected officials and heads of state towards reaching real unity. In it, we could hear about the steps taken towards what the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith explains as the true future outcome of unity:

The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race. – Ibid., p. 204.

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  • Justin Whiting
    Mar 28, 2019
    Beautiful concepts that need to be available to the wider society.
  • Badi Shams
    Mar 25, 2019
    Very interesting and educative view. Thank you for sharing.
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