We are inclined to unity

I’ve always been amazed watching animals in nature instinctively moving in sync — in harmony — with one another. It could be hundreds of birds in flight, fish swimming, herds running. Each one is so in tune with the movement of the others around them that their behavior seems scripted — orchestrated.

Photo by Harrison Haines on

We humans are instinctively capable of finding unity too. When we walk in groups, we often adjust our pace to be in step with those around us. In crowds, we start out handclapping on our own, but within seconds, hundreds of us can clap in unison.

When’s the last time you participated in a stadium wave? It takes only a handful of clustered people to stand and raise their arms in unison. Spontaneously, the people seated in the section next to them know precisely when it is their time to mimic the action. Soon the rhythm of the wave is coursing around the stadium until it loops a few times and the energy dies out.

Also, think about sporting events where you get caught up in the chanting of the crowd. Sparked by enthusiasm, choruses ring out in unison, chanting the encouraging, “I believe that we will win!” or the great-play celebration, “Olé, Olé, Olé” or the ever taunting, very specific, “Air Ball!”

One of my favorite examples is a live performance I watch on TV of Paul McCartney enchanting his concert audience with the Beatles’ biggest #1 hit song, “Hey Jude.” The song itself is about optimism and togetherness, and the coda’s repetitive “nah, nah, nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, hey Jude” is like a heartfelt lullaby. This along with the crowd’s raised arms waving and clapping in unison. I wanted very much to be there in the moment among everyone.

Photo by Wolfgang on

These forms of unity get us involved in the excitement, bring us together as a crowd, and remind us that our enjoyment of this event and our presence in this moment make us one. We feel connected. This increases our empathy, and we become more sociable to one another.

…so then why does it feel like these days so many people are trying to divide us?

The world has been changing always. Evolving. Advancing. And while many of us need some time to adjust to change, it feels like a large portion of people have come to a dead stop. They’ve thrown out their anchors, settled into their box-shaped comfort zones, and are refusing to pursue unity with anyone outside of their “kind.”

I see these separatists as people who will turn their backs on others without giving them a chance to express their ideas or perspective. I feel separatists are not open to alternative points of view; they believe all others are simply wrong. Rather than rising up to accept people for what they have in common with others, separatists want to sink down and find the line that severs their connections to others.

In my heart, I’m a unifier. I want to know more about people who are different than me so that my outlook and perspective can grow and become more diverse. I want to learn from people who have had different experiences than me. Relying on their examples, I can avoid mistakes or achieve success that I otherwise would not have known about. And my acknowledgement of their experiences gives them validation that they’ve improved others’ lives through their own.

Here are some examples of how a separatist sees personal differences vs. a unifier:

Personal Difference
Two people are sports fans, but for rival teams.
The Separatist
Feels only the rivalry; sees the other as an “enemy.”
The Unifier
Wants to connect based on how much they both love this sport. “Who’s your favorite player?” “Let’s set a friendly wager!”

When you think of NBA player rivalries, hardly any other is bigger than Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird and the Lakers’ Magic Johnson. They first competed against one another in an NCAA championship game between Indiana and Michigan States, respectively. As pros, they competed against each other in the NBA finals three times. Both players are in the NBA Hall of Fame. With such fierce competition between them, you’d think they’d have often wished the worst for their rival. Instead they were and still are the best of friends.

In a book they published together, When the Game Was Ours, Johnson tells how they went from being rivals to being friends, “Then Larry and I sat down for lunch, and I tell you, we figured out we’re so much alike. We’re both from the Midwest, we grew up poor, our families [are] everything to us, basketball is everything to us. So that changed my whole outlook on Larry Bird.”

Photo by Markus Spiske on

Personal Difference
Two people want to improve life in their communities, but they align with different political parties.
The Separatist
Cannot “cross the aisle” in order to prioritize their common goals.
The Unifier
Is interested in collaborating and will listen to opposing viewpoints in order to develop the most-well-rounded solution.

In 1997, I volunteered as an usher for a national summit that led to the formation of America’s Promise Alliance. The objective was to improve the lives of millions of at-risk youths. The reason I was attracted to the event is because it was co-convened by political opposites, Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. As stated by President Clinton, the goal of the summit was “to mobilize America’s citizen power in a united effort to solve our common problems, especially those that threaten our young people.”

Over the past 20+ years, the alliance has accumulated nearly 400 corporate, private, non-profit, education, and faith-based partners.

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on

Personal Difference
Two people each have goals to unite and inspire others, but they are not of the same religion.
The Separatist
Chooses to work alone as the other is “misguided” or “misinformed.”
The Unifier
Wants to broaden their perspective in order to develop messages that people can relate to on many levels.

I’d been reading a book called The Book of Joy, which is co-authored by Tibetan Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the 300-page book, I dog-eared just one page for the message that most resonated with me, a quote from the Dalai Lama:

“If we stress secondary level of differences–my nation, my religion, my color–then we notice the differences. Like this moment now in Africa, there is too much emphasis on this nation or that nation. They should think that we are same Africans. Furthermore, we are same human beings. Same with religion: Shiite and Sunni, or Christian and Muslim. We are same human beings. These differences between religions are personal matters. When we relate to others from the place of compassion it goes to the first level, the human level, not the secondary level of difference. Then you can even have compassion for your enemy.”

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Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know

We can’t be judgmental of separatists. Some people have been raised to believe their parents’ and greater family’s ways and beliefs are the only correct choice. Or they commit such loyalty to a group or organization that they shut out any outsiders or new ideas.

Similarly, even open minded people don’t know what they don’t know until they make a conscious effort to focus on the “new” or the “other.”

I recently watched a video that is part of a series launched by former NFL player and current sports analyst Emmanuel Acho. This was following the wave of racial unrest ignited in America. In the video, TV personalities Chip and Joanna Gaines bring their children to Acho to ask him questions about racial relations.

Chip relayed a story about how he and his family had not had a lot of experience with cancer, but a few years ago he met a woman with cancer who conveyed her story to him about what life is like as a cancer patient. Then he and the family became advocates for cancer patients and their families, and have supported a lot of cancer-related initiatives since then.

He said, “…once I learned about it and understood it and it affected my soul, I couldn’t unforget it.”

He said it was the same kind of light-bulb moment when he realized he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a black person or part of a black family living in America.

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Many people — myself included — had simply never felt the need or desire to think this way. But now that this issue has come front and center (again), this may be the start of a greater level of social equilibrium.

People who are willing to let go of fear and anger, who are willing to be seen as vulnerable and still learning have the most to gain in this world and have the greatest potential to bring the rest of us with them toward empathy, compassion, and love.

Let’s move forward together

Balance is the key to harmony. We’re in this boat together. I may prefer the view on the starboard side while you prefer the view on the port side, but if you row your oar at a different rate than I’m rowing mine, we’re just going to keep moving in a circle. We each can have our own points of view and still move forward together in unity. For the greater good, you have to be willing to try.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…