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As America faces political, social, and health crises, people everywhere are using the word “unity.” But what is the real meaning of unity?
Today, perhaps more than ever before, we hear politicians, journalists, and people everywhere calling for unity. But others have quickly pointed out that using unity as a buzzword might quickly turn conversations away from productive discussions about necessary reform; that in our search for unity, we might end up stifling new voices to uphold a problematic status quo.
With this recent focus on the concept of unity, it’s worth looking into the Baha’i Faith’s definition — and how it might apply to these challenging times.
Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you.
All other principles, laws, and ordinances of the Baha’i Faith — such as the equality of men and women, the elimination of all prejudices, and the harmony of science and religion — exist to uphold this principle.
The Baha’i Writings say that we need unity now more than ever. “Disunity is a danger that the nations and peoples of the earth can no longer endure; the consequences are too terrible to contemplate, too obvious to require any demonstration,” wrote the Universal House of Justice, the internationally elected administrative body of the Baha’i Faith in “The Promulgation of Universal Peace.”
We can see how the lack of these spiritual principles lies at the heart of our global problem of disunity. We can no longer pretend that the suffering of one segment of humanity doesn’t affect us — we are all connected, whether we want to be or not.
Crises in one part of the world soon quickly affect the other parts. Issues like the pandemic, climate change, and the refugee crisis have made that clear. And our stubborn refusal to account for the welfare of everyone is creating more and more problems. As the Universal House of Justice explained:
There is no justification for continuing to perpetuate structures, rules, and systems that manifestly fail to serve the interests of all peoples. The teachings of the Faith leave no room for doubt: there is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources.
Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, did not believe that this unity could be achieved through racial power, dogmatic power, patriotic power, or even political power. “Unification through these material means,” he explained, “would benefit one and injure another because of unequal and individual interests.”
And looking around us, we can see evidence of these injuries everywhere. Racial diversity is seen as a visual manifestation of unity in the workplace or the government when there is no true diversity or opinion or equally divided authority. In adherence to religion or patriotism, many set aside science or fact in favor of clinging to their own ideas. And “unity” becomes nothing more than a buzzword that politicians use when seeking compromise over justice.
Instead of these approaches to unity, Abdu’l-Baha proposed seeking unity in the one area where we are all equal: spiritual power, which we are all born with and all find peace in. When we pursue unity “through spiritual means and the divine power it is possible and practicable,” he wrote.
But what does unity through spiritual means look like? How can it be achieved in a world where our very concept of “spirituality” differs from person to person?
Unity does not mean uniformity. Diversity — racial, political, religious, and gender — is a prerequisite of unity because it’s the sharing, acceptance, and love for those differences that bind people together. Embracing that diversity by nature requires that we develop certain spiritual qualities, such as justice and consultation. Baha’u’llah wrote:
No man can attain his true station except through his justice. No power can exist except through unity. No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.
In the process of consultation, groups of people with differing points of view come together. Then, in a posture of learning — and with the ultimate goal of finding the truth together — they listen to each other and share their opinions in a detached manner, until “the shining spark of truth” appears from “the clash of differing opinions.”
Unity and justice go hand-in-hand, and consultation is key to achieving it. Baha’u’llah explained:
Consultation bestoweth greater awareness and transmuteth conjecture into certitude. It is a shining light which, in a dark world, leadeth the way and guideth… The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation.
As our understanding of one another increases — an understanding based on spiritual principles such as love, compassion, forgiveness, and justice — the path to lasting unity becomes clear.
Interestingly, the Baha’i Writings say that unity is not only possible — it is inevitable, and is a natural next step in human evolution.
Unification of the whole of mankind is the hallmark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving.
If we look at unity as something humanity has already achieved, to some degree, in smaller contexts, then it no longer looks like a utopian, unachievable goal. Instead, like anything else, it becomes something to work towards — like any other skill — through study and practice.
We will have plenty of opportunities to reflect on the meaning of unity in the coming months and to put it into practice in our daily lives. We can engage in consultative conversation with friends and family, and even those who may have different points of view from us. We can reflect on the relationship between unity and justice, and make sure our words and actions contribute to bringing justice and peace to our communities. And we can begin to form bonds with one another based on more than nationality, race, or political affiliation — but rather on the spiritual values we all aspire to see take shape in our lives, in our country, and in the world.