I recently heard someone make this statement: Without diversity there can be no unity. It was made in the context of a meeting where leadership was shared among 9 women and men of varying age, ethnicity and experience. In the moment it felt right. But the more I reflect on it, I’m not sure people buy into that idea. Especially in light of the ever-deepening tendency to personalize experiences based on interests and “likes”.
It definitely feels paradoxical. And I suspect much of how this hits you depends on how you define or experience unity. And exactly how far you are willing to stretch diversity.
But here’s where this hits me as truth. It’s in the word UNITY.
Unity is defined as the state of being united or joined as a whole, esp. in a political context; harmony or agreement between people or groups; the state of forming a complete and pleasing whole, esp. in an artistic context; or a thing forming a complex whole
All too often these days, people are seeking UNANIMITY.
Being unanimous requires those involved to be fully in agreement; or in the case of an opinion, decision, or vote, it must be held or carried by everyone involved.
Sometimes people call for this unanimity under the guise of unity and like-mindedness. But the reality is that unanimity makes diversity almost impossible. We carry so much more than a list of doctrinal or political statements with us into a group. Even if we can agree to a list of qualifying belief statements, the way I live those out will be wholly dependent on my own life experiences. I’m no expert, but I suspect that the louder the call for unanimity regarding belief statements, the more homogeneous a group’s demographics will become, whether through self-selection or rejection.
True unity comes when a diverse group of people come together in support of a cause, an organization or some other entity. Certainly the 13 colonies that came together to form the United States of America are a fine example. These colonies, commonwealths and plantations represented some very different cultural, religious, economic and political values and desires. What united them was an objective- to create a new form of government in a new nation that balanced shared risk and independence. In order to move forward with a united front, the constitution had to remain short and open, allowing for those diverse states to remain unique.
If our history teaches nothing else, it is that unity can be a messy and painful business and that diversity both requires and allows for unity. If the history of the world teaches us anything, it is that quests for unanimity often lead to marginalization and oppression of dissenters.
Unity requires a commitment to remain one in spite of forces that pull groups apart, including the things that make individuals unique. Unity means agreeing on the vision, mission and identity of a group, even while listening to dissenting voices as part of the discernment process moving forward. It takes work and commitment to build relationships of trust and acceptance – and even more work to maintain them.
So can unity exist without diversity? What do you say?