Is unity possible? What we need to do first

Column by Linda Newell
Posted 1/28/21

We’ve been hearing a lot about “unity” in the last few weeks. Our new president and other elected officials on both sides of the aisle have been calling for it (after many months spent sowing …

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Is unity possible? What we need to do first

Posted

We’ve been hearing a lot about “unity” in the last few weeks. Our new president and other elected officials on both sides of the aisle have been calling for it (after many months spent sowing campaign divisiveness). While the rioters were at the doorstep of our nation’s Capitol, some congressional members were asking for “unity” while spewing inflammatory and false assertions on the floor. From other perspectives, some claim calls for unity cannot be trusted. What can we make of all this and how can we heal and move forward as a nation?

Unfortunately, amidst the bubbles of social media algorithms, campaigns, and disparate neighborhoods, we have created caricature perceptions of each other; demonized labels, and categories of “the other” that have proven to be divisive and even dangerous.

Sure, we could keep on living this way, and maybe we will for a while. But if we don’t get on board with the action of unity, our democratic republic might not survive. If we cannot acknowledge each other’s basic humanity, with all our fears, misunderstandings, and disagreements, how can we ever become one undivided nation? And even if we want to truly unify, how do we do that in our fractured state of the union?

In chaplaincy, we learn how to “sit with” the pain of our patients; not to try to solve their problems, pass over the grief or fear, or tell them that everything will be all right. Rather, we sit and be with them in their reflection, just as it is, no matter how hard or awkward it may be or potentially painful. Sometimes, a loved one won’t get better or even survive. Other times, our fears we cling to are worse than allowing the healing to occur. Yet, how can they make meaning out of what is happening? How can they learn from this moment?

Perhaps this practice can help us all in achieving unity in our country. Maybe we just need to first sit with our own grief, fears, and emotions no matter what they might look like or how painful it might be. It is only with the acknowledgment of the pain that we can truly begin to heal or change. A physician needs to diagnose an illness in order to prescribe a treatment. First comes the acknowledgment of what is happening in the body. Only then can we figure out what to do for the mending.

Some of us are feeling grief about our candidate losing, or realizing that we were not told the truth or that pent-up anger can turn into danger. Others are feeling afraid that we’re losing the very foundation of our democracy. Yet others still are sad that we’ve never actually had a just nation and afraid we won’t be able to build one that is. No matter what we’re grieving or feeling, first, we need to acknowledge that we’re all feeling something. If we can’t even acknowledge our own feelings, how will we ever recognize and work with each other’s? Without empathy for each other, unity is impossible.

The wise Dr. Thomas Moore said that through the dark night of the soul, there is rebirth; an opportunity for growth. Honoring our grief and acknowledging our emotions may just help us transcend to a higher state of being together in this imperfect but courageous union in which we live.

Former Colorado state senator, now with a master’s in Social Justice and Ethics from Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a writer, speaker, facilitator, and conflict consultant. Senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.

Linda Newell

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