Does “United” Really Mean Anything?

We live in the United States of America. These days, the name seems to be the only thing united in this country. There are battle lines everywhere: skin color, culture, gender, political party, religion, financial status, sexuality, and probably a few more I’m missing. I don’t know if the Tuscon shootings had anything to do with Sarah Palin or anyone else slinging mud, arrows, or whatever else was handy, but the reaction has been ridiculous. Everyone wants to jump in and blame someone else. Loudly and vehemently.

I’ve said for a long time that if politicians would work together for the good of their constituents, instead of following the money and pushing their own agenda, so much more would get done and we would be so much better off. Of course, it’s not just politicians; they’re just the most obvious and should be the most accountable because they represent so many people. We’re all accountable for our own actions, though, and we can all make a difference, one decision at a time. We’re all stuck on this earth together, why can’t we make more of an effort to work together instead of finding every reason not to?

Yesterday at church, my preacher read part of a 2008 speech given by President Obama at Dr. King’s church in Atlanta for the MLK Day ceremony. The subject was unity. It struck me because to me, unity is the answer to so many problems. I have included some of the speech below. I’ve also included quotes from Dr. King regarding unity. John Donne wrote in 1624, that we are all dependent on each other. And we’ve all heard or read the following quote by Martin Niemöller:

“When the Nazis came for the communists, I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.”

“From every mountainside, let freedom ring. When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream, 1963.

All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. ” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

“The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne  1624

Excerpts of President Obama’s 2008 speech:

“Unity is the great need of the hour” is what King said. Unity is how we shall overcome.What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more walked, the foundation might start to shake. If a few more women were willing to do what Rosa Parks had done, maybe the cracks would start to show. If teenagers took freedom rides from North to South, maybe a few bricks would come loose. Maybe if white folks marched because they had come to understand that their freedom too was at stake in the impending battle, the wall would begin to sway. And if enough Americans were awakened to the injustice; if they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour.”

“But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes – a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.

It’s not easy to stand in somebody else’s shoes. It’s not easy to see past our differences. We’ve all encountered this in our own lives. But what makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart – that puts up walls between us.”

“So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.”

I encourage you to read the whole speech. If you disagree with President Obama’s politics (as I do), ignore the political parts of the speech. Don’t let your political views get in the way of a powerful message.

Small things matter. Smile at someone you normally wouldn’t smile at. Say “Hello” or “How are you?” to someone you wouldn’t normally speak to. Of course there are also big things we can all do, we hear about them every day. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can’t change anything because you don’t have enough time or money. With compassion and empathy, we can all work together to change our neighborhoods, our cities, our country, and the world.