Today’s political and social climate in the world and in the United States seems to accentuates disagreement in thoughts and ideologies, give rise to disunity, create a sense of fear and insecurity, and in some cases even loss of human life and destruction. Chaos and confusion are reaching such intensity that they are affecting the fundamental structure of society; uprooting its time-honored constitutions and institutions; destroying the bonds of human relationships; and driving its inhabitants away from their homes as refugees. To counter these forces, significant productive and constructive energy will be required to sustain human societies. One way to look at our community, country, and the world for a path forward is to practice the concept of Unity in Diversity. The American Diversity Report provides an effective avenue for meaningful discourse on the subject.
Within the context of unity in diversity, as envisioned by the global Bahá’í Community, unity of the whole is practiced while fully appreciating the strength brought by the diverse elements constituting this whole. Unity does not mean uniformity. However, many groups, communities, societies, and even nations consider uniformity as comfortable and safe. In such societies, a large majority of people would be the same, ideologies are pre-defined, thoughts are framed in a pre-determined setting, and most adhere to the same culture, religion, and way of life. This approach, as safe it may seem, is protectionist in nature with potential unrepairable impact on the advancement of civilization. Appreciating diversity is a means of overcoming the fragmentation so prevalent in the societies today. Fragmentation can cause division, create walls, hinder communication and cross fertilization of ideas and cultures. Uniformity and fragmentation when practiced together can lead to greater ignorance and intolerance.
The use of the phrase unity in diversity and similar concepts is not a new phenomenon. Its roots reach back hundreds of years in non-Western cultures such as indigenous peoples in North America and Taoist societies in 400-500 B.C. The ancient Inca, Greek, and Roman civilizations used the term in defining their conception of the universe and even movement of stars. In more recent times, the term has been used in a stronger and more direct manner among the leaders of thought in a wide range of disciplines.
It is acknowledged that understanding the concept and, more importantly, its implementation may not be as easy as it sounds or seems. Emphasizing unity alone can lead to absolutism and exclusivism. Reliance on diversity alone can destroy common values and principles. A right balance is critical, but sometimes hard to strike. Besides political ideologies, religions have been accused of imposing absolutism and suppressing diversity. Religious traditions greatly influence public thought, opinion, sentiments, and way of life. Yet, they can be a catalyst for progress by virtue of their own teachings.
Michael Novak, an American Catholic philosopher, writer, and diplomat, who also served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, stresses that unity in diversity is the highest possible attainment of a civilization. Rabbi Yechiel Michael Halevi Epstein argues that diversity is a sign of strength not weakness. İbrahim Kalın, an official of the Turkish Government and a senior fellow at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Georgetown University, puts pluralism as a pressing challenge that modern societies, states, and traditional religions, including Islám, have to recognize.
A vision of unity that is characterized by and founded in diversity rather than uniformity is put forth by the global Bahá’í Community. It is obvious that a difference in degree of capacity exists among individuals. This variation in people is precisely the reason to foster unity and not discord and enmity. The analogy of a flower garden illustrates the point. If the flowers are all of one color, the effect would be monotonous to the eye; but if the colors are varied, it is most pleasing to the eye. The difference in arrangement of colors and the capacity of reflecting the sunlight received by the flowers gives the garden its beauty and charm. Although we are different individualities with unique characteristics, we can and must to live together in harmony, reflecting the light of knowledge and understanding.
The growing interdependence of the communities in the world over the last century has resulted in an increasingly interwoven and complex system of relations. The growth of the Western hegemony that has run parallel with the development of this interdependence threatens to impose a uniform set of ideals and values, directly and indirectly, on all people, including those living here in the United States. We must broaden our basic thinking to appreciate the beauty of the diversity of ethnic origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. There is much room for meaningful conversation and action at the grassroots level, such as the efforts being made here in Chattanooga, in the halls and houses of national governance, and in the global organizations. Our watchword under all circumstances should be unity in diversity.
- Unity in Diversity: A Model for Advancement of Civilization – by Vahid Alavian - February 15, 2017