These are strange and unsettling times, post-election. Winners are trying to disguise the joy, even glee; losers are trying on a countenance of humility, fighting through bitter disappointment. The electorate has spoken. The vote is done. We are a democracy. Now we move forward.
With incessant talk about avoiding crisis, coming together, finding compromises and seeking unity, I got to wondering, how will we get there? How do we define unity? What are we really trying to achieve?
The assumption is that unity means we must all agree on something. If absolute agreement is the goal, we can be sure that we will fail. We are so utterly divided over what the problems are that we are unable to see eye to eye on the solutions.
So maybe it would be good to have a better, more nuanced definition of unity. Perhaps if we could redefine it, we could actually work toward a more harmonious state.
The dictionary defines unity as "the state of being united or joined as a whole, especially in a political context," and "harmony or agreement between people or groups." Given the ever-growing gaps and level of vitriol in the political sphere, it seems hard to achieve something as simple as "agreement between people and groups."
So, I went searching for a better definition. And I think I found it in music and art.
Artists don't pick up a brush and paint a single color on a canvas. Musicians don't play one note.
In fact, the definition of unity in art is when all of the elements of a piece combine to make a balanced, harmonious, complete whole. It's hard to describe but your eye and brain know it when they see it. They can see how balance is achieved in the sum of the work.
In music, unity consists of repetition (similarity) and contrast. If you're a musician you'll recognize terms such as a repeating refrain; thematic unity, tonal plan (starting and finishing in the same key visiting related keys in between), or recurrent intervals. I played the violin and the piano, but I'm not a musician. What I know is that whether you prefer the Beach Boys or Baroque, great music finds the balance between similarity and dissimilarity.
The point is that we need to embrace a different definition of unity so that we come to believe we can achieve it. We are not seeking to be the same. We are not seeking even to agree, completely. We are seeking to find a balance in the variance by including the right amount of this and that. We have to give our differences a place on the canvas so that the result is a true artistic or political triumph.
John Lennon's most celebrated song, "Imagine," described his view of a utopian world - one in which there were no disagreements:
"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one"
I think the "Imagine" concept is so foreign to what we expect to achieve in our lifetimes that we should appreciate it, but seek something else. Not to avoid disagreement, but to listen for the opportunity to transition from the minor to major chord. Not to paint all the colors on top of each other, but let them live side by side. With that we can create one interesting canvas.
"The Destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees." - T. H. White, The Once and Future King