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Wisconsin has three places named Unity. For some reason, that fact has always struck me as hilarious. I mean, shouldn’t they merge?
The word unity comes from the Latin root unus, which means one. Of course, lots of important English words proceed from that same root: the Universe, universal, university, uniform, unify, and yes, the first name of the country I live in, the United States of America.
Sadly, though, we don’t see much real unity in the United States or the United Nations these days. Instead, we have an extremely polarized social and political landscape across the entire world. Why? Well, we’re obviously in the midst of a period of great change—and of great resistance to that change. Those polar opposites have split people and tribes and nations apart, creating a fractured and fractious landscape marked primarily by disagreement and discord rather than unity.
The Baha’i teachings explain the reasons for that polarization and disunity—and offer solutions. A quarter-century ago, the democratically-elected body that administers the Baha’i World, the Universal House of Justice, summarized the Baha’i viewpoint on the world’s increasing polarization and disunity:
… the world in its current condition has lost its bearings through the operation of forces it neither understands nor can control. It is a period in which great dynasties and empires have collapsed in rapid succession, in which powerful ideologies have captured the hearts of millions only to expire in infamy, in which two world wars wreaked havoc on civilized life as it was known at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In the wake of such horrendous disruptions, there have been unexampled advances in the realms of science, technology and social organization; a veritable explosion of knowledge; and an even more remarkable burgeoning in the awakening and rise of masses of humanity which were previously presumed to be dormant. These masses are claiming their rightful places within the community of nations which has greatly expanded. With the simultaneous development of communications at the speed of light and transportation at the speed of sound, the world has contracted into a mere neighbourhood in which people are instantly aware of each other’s affairs and have immediate access to each other. And yet, even with such miraculous advances, with the emergence of international organizations, and with valiant attempts and brilliant successes at international cooperation, nations are at woeful odds with one another, people are convulsed by economic upheavals, races feel more alienated than before and are filled with mistrust, humiliation and fear.
Collateral with these changes has been the breakdown of institutions, religious and political, which traditionally functioned as the guideposts for the stability of society. Even the most resilient of these seem to be losing their credibility as they have become preoccupied with their own internal disorder. This calls attention to the emptiness of the moral landscape and the feeling of futility deranging personal life. Thoughtful commentators write apprehensively about the fall of culture and the consequent disappearance of values, the loss of the fullness of the inner life, a technological civilization facing an increasingly serious crisis. They write, moreover, of the human species as being at the end with its wisdom and being unable to control itself, of the need for divine wisdom and foresight, and of the human psyche as being far removed from recognizing this need.
These ominous comments reflect the universal consequences of a failed understanding as to the purpose of God for humankind. It is in this particular respect that the Revelation of Baha’u’llah sheds new light; it refreshes our thoughts; it clarifies and expands our conceptions. His Teachings imbue us with the abundance of God’s love for His creatures; they impress upon us the indispensability of justice in human relations and emphasize the importance of adhering to principle in all matters; they inform us that human beings have been created “to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization” and that the virtues that befit the dignity of every person are: “forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth”. …
“Such simultaneous processes of rise and fall, of integration and of disintegration, of order and chaos, with their continuous and reciprocal reactions on each other, are,” our Teachings tell us, “but aspects of a greater Plan, one and indivisible, whose Source is God, whose author is Baha’u’llah, the theatre of whose operations is the entire planet, and whose ultimate objectives are the unity of the human race and the peace of all mankind.” [Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 60-61.]
Disunity is the crux of the problems which so severely afflict the planet. It permeates attitudes in all departments of life. It is at the heart of all major conflicts between nations and peoples. More serious still, disunity is common in the relations between religions and within religions, vitiating the very spiritual and moral influence which it is their primary purpose to exert. – The Universal House of Justice, 26 November, pp. 1-2.
Most people probably see disunity as the end result of “the problems which so severely afflict the planet”—but the Baha’i teachings look at the problem in a completely different way. Instead of the result of our planet’s problems, Baha’is view disunity as the prime source and the crux of the world’s most pressing issues—their immediate cause and their deepest root.
In the first essay in this series, we explored the truth of the trenchant statement “big hard things can only be done together.” The Baha’i teachings agree, and ask humanity to unify to do the “big hard things” necessary to our continuing survival as a species:
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded.
Through the power of the words He hath uttered the whole of the human race can be illumined with the light of unity … – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 286-287.