So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth … I chose to title this column Light of Unity, because unity is the central tenet of the Baha’i daith. That core idea includes:
The oneness of God.
The essential oneness of religion.
The unity of humankind.
This idea — that all humanity is one, interconnected community — is more obvious today than at any other time in history. Until recent decades, few people were able to see that everyone on this planet is connected to everyone else. Vast distances separated continents and travel and communication were difficult. And when people from different continents and cultures did mingle, the plain fact of looking, dressing and acting differently erected insurmountable barriers. These differences were all anyone could see.
As humans, we have a distressing tendency to view the world through a zero-sum lens, an us-versus-them mentality. You’re either on our team or you’re an opponent.
Photos from space confirm that state and national borders are not God-given demarcations. Rather they are lines on maps we ourselves have drawn. Sometimes those lines are a matter of administrative expedience. More often, unfortunately, they act as a means to separate one group of people from another.
As a planetary community, we have chosen to perpetuate that division. We fear that tearing down barriers between people and countries means we all have to be the same.
But that’s where we’re wrong.
We don’t have to think that way anymore.
We are all batting for the same team.
We can not only accept our differences — we can celebrate them. What’s more, our diversity, those differences, make us a stronger, better team.
When I was 25, I went with my husband and two small children to live in Punta Gorda, a little town in Belize, where I studied ethnicity and nationalism in children for my doctorate in anthropology. I was constantly amazed at the way children could ignore, and even transcend, their elders’ conceptions of identity. They could become friends with all other children, regardless of ethnic group or religion. They knew, because they were growing up in a diverse society, that unity was possible even amidst diversity.
The Belizean government realized it too. Their slogan for their independence day celebrations in 1994 was “from many cultures, one nation.”
The Baha’i faith expands that idea further to say “from many nations, one planet.”
Each of us has a light inside. If we can find a way to all shine together, we can illuminate the whole earth.