2020 was quite a year. All hopes are for a better and brighter New Year. If you’re like me, you have too many items on your resolution list. If you had to choose only one, what might it be?
My choice would be striving for unity. Songs of the past holiday season and accompanying prayers for peace on earth, good will toward men seem not to have had the intended effect. We wonder, has there ever been a time in history with so much division among peoples of the earth?
The number of refugees fleeing conflict is well into the millions. Yet more doors are firmly closed to the burgeoning number of immigrants. In the US, we saw a historically alienated election that even politicized a global pandemic. A near takeover of the government? Who could have ever imagined such a thing? Racism, rather than waning with education and our now globally connected world, is on the rise in even the most democratic nations. Among the various faith communities, and even those who share the same faith, are constantly at odds with evermore diverse sects, opinions and extremism.
Personal freedom is the rallying cry. Freedom to do or speak no matter the consequences. We find half the world engaged in diversity education and training while the other half sees only ‘them against us’. Which would you choose? All the colors of the world joined to create a beautiful mosaic or a very stark, black and white landscape. A melting pot congealed into a colorless paste, or a salad bowl – each flavor unique and satisfying on its own but when combined, offers a tantalizing and satisfying taste.
Humans are unique beings, able to choose, to make conscious and informed decisions. We can opt for unity or division, based on all kinds of criteria: race, nationality, education, wealth, status, even caste. Or we can look to what unifies us. All people are born, we live, we die, we have hopes and fears, we struggle and we celebrate. We bleed, we cry, we hurt. We smile, we love, we care. Even the rich and powerful, the poor and the destitute, engage in the same primitive daily functions, have the same basic needs and wants. Why then do we perceive ourselves so differently?
We are told categorically in the Qur’an that all Muslims are a single brotherhood 49:10. Yet even we divide into differing sects, political parties, by ethnicity, language, and geography. Jews and Christians are known throughout the Qur’an as the People of the Book, yet we choose to label those not of our faith as disbelievers. 3:64 “Say, People of the Book! Come to a word common between us and you.” In others words, we are urged to focus on and seek common ground rather than emphasize our differences.
A thoughtful verse paraphrased states, “Whoever rejects wrongdoing and instead holds to rightness has grasped a strong handhold that doesn’t break. Hold fast together to the rope of your Creator and be not divided.” 3:103. It reminds me of the game of tug of war we played as children – how teams would have to pull together to win. Those most united in purpose and strength would be the victors. Those who argued or insisted on personal opinions would lose. Additionally, within the Muslim prayer, we see the wisdom of this, standing side by side, toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder, regardless of color or rank. What is the purpose of this except to illustrate the importance of being united?
We can easily see the effects of polarization. Division leads to alienation, conflict, confrontation, and at worst, war. Yet these all start innocently enough in the smaller divisions we create in our families and our communities. As usual, our good practices begin at home within our families and the modeling we do for our children. A natural progression starts with ourselves then moves outward to those nearest to us. Can we face the New Year committed to creating peace and harmony within the family, to imagine a unified front that will offer goodwill and understanding, tolerance and respect towards our extended families, our neighbors and the surrounding community? No single person can change the world, but if we unite in a common purpose we then can affect a momentous change.
Portions of this blog first appeared in Family Flavor January 2021