Thursday, March 20, 2008

E Pluribus Unum

I read Barack Obama's talk yesterday, and it really struck me. I know everybody is talking about how it has to do with race, but his real theme, if you look more closely, is about forming "a more perfect union" - the vision of the Founding Fathers that this country is on a path, a path of union.

I recently read a biography of Abraham Lincoln, and he also studied very carefully the Constitution and tried to interpret the intentions of the founders of our nation. He saw that these founders recognized that the nation, the union, was not perfect, and that although they believed slavery was anathema to their vision of the country, it had to be allowed to exist until a future time.

It reminds me of the story I heard of a cathedral in Europe where they designed it to hold a massive dome on the top, when nobody knew how to create such a dome. But they knew it would take 200 years to build the cathedral, and they had this astounding faith that in that time people would figure out how to build the dome. And that is actually what happened.

I was thinking about this theme of "a more perfect union," and it struck me what the motto is on all of our money - E Pluribus Unum - Out of the Many, One. The Founding Father's vision was not just about uniting a number of separate states into one country, but it was about uniting people - different people from different countries, religions and philosophies into one people.

I think this is what is inspiring people about the vision Mr. Obama is holding for us - he continues to emphasize what is common among us all, about what is good in this country. And he says, unified, we can meet and address our problems. Divided, we fall. As Abraham Lincoln said, "A house divided cannot stand."

Unity is such a common theme in religions, and so it should be. The Indian scriptures say that the root cause of fear is the feeling of being separate, being different. It is the sense of difference, of separateness, that pits man against man, tribe against tribe, husband against wife. But in finding what is common, seeing that we are all the same, promotes love and brings strength to all.

Mr. Obama said something else that struck me: that focusing on these differences of race, of color, and so on, are distractions. And I realized that distraction is key to those who would not have us look at our real problems and solve them together. There are those who benefit from the status quo. And the best thing to do is to keep us distracted, focusing on things like gun control, death penalty, issues of race and sex, immigration, and all these things that keep us separate from and afraid of each other.

I think the Internet has its problems socially, but it has done one thing. It has enabled the individual to participate in democracy like never before. Obama's campaign is it is not financed by the traditional money interests, by lobbyists and large donors. It is financed by you and me, by one small donation after another. So Obama is not beholden to these entrenched interests. He would not have made it, with the platform he is putting forth, if he were getting his money from traditional sources.

It also strikes me that because of the Internet and the read/write web, people can watch the full video of his speech on YouTube, and are not spoon-fed it by the main media. So people can listen to it all, take it in, think, and let it affect their perception of what this nation is about.

And that gives me hope - perhaps there is a way we can bring our democracy - of the people, by the people, and for the people - back to the people, to a place where our dialog is about unity and solving our problems together, not tribal bickering. Audacious hope, yes, but there it is :)

I offered this prayer from the ancient Rg Veda for Kenya and now I offer it for our United States, and for the world:

Let us be united;
Let us speak in harmony;
Let our minds apprehend alike.
Common be our prayer,
Common be the end of our assembly;
Common be our resolution;
Common be our deliberations.
Alike be our feelings;
Unified be our hearts;
Common be our intentions;
Perfect be our unity.


Anonymous said...

You are incredibly naive if you think Obama is not being financed by lobbyists and large donations.

Unknown said...

Yes, you're probably right... Sigh...