Unity is a superficially simple concept, that I would define as something like an agreement among individuals, or individual parties, to maintain alignment on a specific cause, philosophy, or purpose. For example, a group of friends can find unity among their individualities to defend each other against some other group of friends, who have likewise found a unity. Those in group A may practice varying adherence to the same or different religions, come from families of no common lineage, or all be transplants from different states. But in their one purpose, defense, they find a unity.
But unity is also a relative concept which has its magnitude defined by the number of participating individuals and the number of overlapping differences that are smoothed over to accommodate a common front. A recent example I came across was a video celebrating western culture, full of Christian religious symbolism and references to both artwork and figures of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. I am assuming the motivation behind this video was a longing for the traditional values of a homogenized western culture and sorrow toward its apparent erosion. Now, this is no attempt to opine on the validity of that longing or to imply any form of judgement on that video. Simply, I saw it as a showcase of smoothing over all the historical, cultural, and linguistic differences among the western European nations and peoples, blending together thousands of years of different histories to propel a writ-large statement. I must emphasize the idea of it blending together and effectively glossing over all historical and cultural differences between, say, the Greeks and Austrians, the English and Italians, in order to make an artistic point. But through the shared sense of a perceived loss of identity, some found unity under the perceived collective culture being lost. In other words, unity was found through differences.
Unity is a pillar of American identity erected in the aftermath of the Civil War. After its conclusion, the American mindset shifted from that of being state-centric, i.e. “I am a Virginian,”, to that of nationalistic, i.e. “I am an American”. Unity, from sea to shining sea, across a landmass the extent of Europe, where people living under fifty different sets of laws were still connected by a common sense that they were Americans. This sense of a common identity was strengthened by external, international dangers that threatened all living in the United States, requiring a need for all to act as one. Unity was maintained as long as the common threads of the blanket of freedom were acknowledged, accepted, understood, propagated, and held in reverence. Americans recognized each other as Americans, and so long as all held to a common concept, a common respect for each other as Americans, unity was maintained. With that could come purpose, a driving goal, an answer for every challenge thrown at the American people, where the American spirit and ingenuity thrived.
But if unity is the tamping down of differences to find agreement toward a common cause, philosophy, or purpose, then two complications arise. The first is understanding how wide commonality may be stretched before the magnitude of differences (as a function of the number of differentiating factors and their importance to people) overwhelms it. Consider categories of differences as the conceptual divisions that define individuals from each other. These can be very wide and blatant (ex. Immigrants and non-immigrants) to much more refined (students same town but rival high schools). So the question becomes, how many people or how many categories of difference can be held together by a common purpose? For example, it may be easy for Catholic Christians and Methodist Christians and Seventh Day Adventist Christians to find unity under Christianity to find purpose in, for example, supporting an education bill. But can that unity toward a purpose also be extended to religious non-Christians or non-religious people to align on and make the desired outcome? Likely that would depend on the how well bill itself provides a non-religious common thread to pull the groups together. The other complication stems from the first, which is the presence of separatist agitators who would prefer to see the magnitude of unity collapse to fit smaller categories of differences. There was never a time in American history where it was difficult to find separatist agitators, but in the 21st century, their reach, the number of outlets available to them, and their volume has reached an accumulation not seen previously in our history.
This is a problem, and it is a self-exacerbating problem. With a growing United States, in the number of its citizens, in the ever-increasing complexity of its cultures, which births more categories of differences, the apparent common threads appear to be growing tauter, while the volume of agitators grows. Unity itself is in danger of being drowned by the need of the agitators to embrace the weight of our differences. Without unity, we find ourselves without the willpower or purpose to resolve any of the major issues facing our nation. To be clear, we the people have become focused on the arguments and not the solutions. To listen closely to the major parties, for example, one finds they offer no solutions, spend time casting stones, and play at government standstills while toying with trillions of taxpayer dollars.
Unity of a people, any people, is a mainstay of society, and is an evolution from family to tribe to city to the nation. The growth and majesty of any civilization was never found by euphorically relishing in the differences but in understanding and owning those differences while understanding that the neighbor is not the enemy and working toward a common objective benefiting all. We cannot afford to focus on separatism any further as we proceed through the 21st century. We must regain unity.