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Friday, March 1, 2024

Unity is a problematic word

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“What are your non-negotiables?”

Unity is generally perceived in a positive light. It evokes people having a common aspiration and working together toward that goal. It brings to mind the absence of differences. Everybody is in harmony. There are no conflicts. With everyone working together, how can success be far behind?

Unfortunately, this notion of unity could be problematic — first because it is not true, and second because it is not sustainable.

That everyone would feel and think the same way is impossible. Each individual has a set of values unique only to him or her. These values are shaped by one’s education, upbringing, exposure, experiences, and preferences.

Now, some people may share some qualities and values in general. This explains the phrase “birds of a feather.” It is natural that people with the same interests and principles become friends or partners. But even best friends, the most intimate of partners, or the closest of families do not agree on everything all the time.

Disagreements are, in fact, healthy, so long as they are acknowledged and managed constructively. It gives people room to learn new things, to argue for their own preference, and to be humble enough to accept that some points of view are better or more valid than their own. They make us accountable to each other. Differences also make for variety. It is always interesting to know what the next person thinks or believes, and, more importantly, why that person thinks or believes it.

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There are always different sectors or interests in a society. For example, if one is a businessman, the things that are important to him or her are definitely not the same as the things that ordinary workers hold dear. Scientists have their own discipline, as do artists. Those arguing for development may not be in agreement with those who want to protect and preserve the environment at all costs. Some people are for the legalization of same-sex marriages; some, only civil partnerships. Some want to push divorce while some believe the laws currently in place are already enough. Some believe it is morally reprehensible to terminate a life whatever the reason; some believe that such acts could sometimes be justified.

We thrive in diversity. We agree to disagree. This is the hallmark of democracy — assent and dissent. Whoever has the best argument — not whoever has the loudest voice — should prevail. Then again, the debates should never end in our constant search for what is good for our country and our people.

We do not expect people to constantly think the same way or dance to the same tune as we do. Thus, in living with this knowledge, we must also be aware of the things that are negotiable for us, and more importantly, those that are non-negotiable.

For example, we could imagine ourselves working with or being friends with people who may have views different from our own. They may have different preferences in entertainment, or in the way they dress, or even in the way they maintain their relationships. Our views on success may not be the same. We would still be friends even though we may rib or call each other out every once in a while.

And the non-negotiables? Dishonesty, violence, sloth, arrogance. These are just examples of things we will not put up with. In these cases, it would be extremely difficult for us to teach the younger generation that taking things that are not yours is wrong, for instance, or disrespecting others is a no-no, if we simply “move on” from the past and embrace that nebulous word, “unity.”

For the sake of our country, we try to work through our differences with others, acknowledging that no two people, much less groups, are ever really alike. We will only do so, however, if we operate in the same sphere of “negotiables.” Once the non-negotiable issues enter the picture — and here it is crucial for each person to determine what these are — then unity becomes meaningless. A sham.

Times have been so bad lately that we are desperate for anything that gives us warm, fuzzy feelings. The word “unity” is easy to mouth and comprehend. If we go by face value, it can make us feel good. But let us not let our desperation get the better of us. We should see through empty words and reject insinuations that some acts — past and continuing — can simply be forgotten, glossed over, and forgiven just for unity’s sake.

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