Thought for the Day
11th June 1996
Unity in Diversity
Good morning. Last week, I was in Bangalore where the papers speculated on the chances of local man, Mr Deve Gowda, keeping afloat a national government based on an alliance of thirteen political parties. That’s an unenviable task which will sorely test the phrase often quoted in Indian politics - “Unity in Diversity”.
From India back to Britain, diversity for me was re-donning my winter vest. The similarity was hearing about the same issue - Unity in Diversity - in Europe and, particularly, in the hopes for achieving some semblence of unity within the diversity of politics in Northern Ireland.
I worry that western philosophy and science favours reductionism. It has broken down life and compartmentalised its constituents. Everything is viewed from the standpoint of the essential differences. Oriental thought comes from the opposite direction. It analyses life so as to understand the oneness of all reality.
In India, there are both dualistic philosophies and those which expound that only undifferentiated oneness exists. Perhaps, the best synthesis of these was provided by Chaitanya in the 16th century in his treatise of “acintya bhedabheda tattva” - that the absolute truth contains simultaneous commonality and distinctions. Chaitanya considered different religions in terms of their common efforts to express revelations received from a single absolute source.
Human endeavours must balance this oneness and difference. The spectators of Euro 96 differ in the team they support, but all share a love of football. Too great a focus on team identities may lead to ugly scenes on the pitches and on the terraces. Whereas, a balanced view enables us to enjoy the sportsmanship of all the teams.
We are not to be blind to differences. Amongst the Irish nationalist groups, the specific difference of Sinn Fein’s approach is significant enough to exclude it from the Stormont talks.
But, when we do analyse our differences, let it be done to understand the underlying connections, rather than what separates us, so that our disparate viewpoints coalesce, or at least can be accommodated with mutual empathy.
Centuries of history have defined that Irish politics is based on sectarian differences. Yet, now there is one aspiration in Northern Ireland which is almost unanimous - to have a permanent cease-fire. Perhaps, the people of the province can acknowledge more aspects of their oneness and be inspired to transcend the in-bred separatism, seeing each other as children of the same God with the same longing for a life of peace.
Living as one community, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, requires sacrifices from each person - sacrifices you can make only when you put yourself in the other’s shoes, knowing them to be really no different from yourself.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.