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Cultivating Unity

September, 2008
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P1040079 When I was a teenager in high school, I used to be part of a dance group that would use steps to make rhythms and at the same time give an inspirational message. Sometimes, we would use our hands and bodies to make other sounds that would add to the rhythm of our steps. The most exciting moments were when the sound of our feet, moving in unison, would become so powerful that I would forget where I was for a moment and could only feel and hear the rhythm.

  The Virtues Project Educators Guide describes unity as something that “…helps us work and live together peacefully. We feel connected with each other and all living things. We value the specialness of each person as a gift, not as a reason to fight or be scared. With unity, we accomplish more together than any of one of us could alone.”

  Unity is power. When my feet moved in harmony with my dance group, I felt strong and uplifted by the power of the group. Through these and similar experiences, I started to realize that cultivating unity is about becoming aware of the power to live our lives as nature intended: in harmony. Because I felt that my contribution to the dance steps was a valuable part of the rhythm we were making, I felt a sense of confidence and joyfulness grow within me. Learning how to cultivate unity in our daily lives is about feeling connected, and making our special contribution to the whole.

  My husband recently discovered an interesting fact in The Mind Map Book by Tony Buzan (1993), “…that individuals share so few common associations for a given word, image or idea means that we are all magically and eerily different from each other. In other words, every human being is far more individual and unique than has hitherto been surmised. If we find a unique mineral we call it: ‘a gem’, ‘priceless’, ‘a jewel’, ‘invaluable’, ‘precious’, ‘a treasure’, ‘rare’, ‘beautiful’, ‘irreplaceable’. In view of what research has revealed about us, we should start applying these same terms to ourselves and our fellow human beings.” Recognizing the uniqueness that we each bring to the table is a very important part of being able to create unity. Would we be able to cultivate this virtue and reap the benefits of each person’s unique talents if we were all the same? Life would probably be easier but very dull!

  The process of becoming a unity-builder can begin at an early age, when children are exposed to nature and allowed to experience its inherent accord. As a simple example when visiting an aquarium, we can use the language of the virtues to comment on the school of fish that move in perfect unity, or the unified makeup of a greatly diversified barrier reef that lives and breathes as one organism.

  Being able to appreciate and create unity in our lives is important at all ages. Children are in the process of becoming adults, and they are fascinated by the adult world that they so long to be a part of. Unity in the family is attained when everyone has their specific role to play, and all roles are honored as important to the life and health of the family. Children as young as 3 years old can participate in family life by setting the table for dinner, or helping with the dishes. When we take the time to show children how to do these simple things, they feel appreciated and can understand that their contribution is important. As we know, children are also attracted to music and storytelling. We can carefully choose songs and stories that give examples of unity for children to identify with. Elementary-aged children can begin to understand the more abstract nature of the concept of unity. They also have concrete experiences to relate to, as they naturally tend to identify strongly with their peer group at school. We can engage 6-12 year olds in interesting discussions about historical figures that practiced unity in their lives and what they would like to do to help foster unity in their schools or classrooms as well. As they grow older, teenagers are acutely aware that they have unique talents and interests that may actually seem to make them stand out or feel estranged from the group. We can support them in their process of individualization by helping them to identify with the needs of the larger human family and encourage them to consider how their unique talents could be used for service in the wider context of society.

  We know as adults that when difficulties arise in our work and relationships, they can often be addressed by bringing back respect, tolerance, and humility into the picture, all of which are building blocks of unity. When we cultivate a sense of appreciation for each person’s uniqueness, we cannot fail to make others feel valued, and this opens the doors for friendship and unity. Our ability to be tolerant of others’ imperfections is also a graceful way of acknowledging our own imperfect reality. This attitude of humility helps us to grow and be more kind towards others. Children, who grow up in an environment where these virtues of tolerance and respect are highly valued, are more likely to engage in harmonious relationships with others and their environment.

  I recently relived my experience as a teenager step dancing with my friends when I watched the Tai Chi performers during the magnificent opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics on August 8, 2008. I was deeply moved by the power of unity in this group. While we were watching, the commentators mentioned that the performers were chosen from Tai Chi schools where students practiced Tai Chi principles in their daily lives, and this was reflected in their ability to maintain perfect balance and distance from each other during the highly intricate routine. Each individual performer’s commitment to doing their personal best was reflected in the beauty and grace of the whole performance. If 2,008 Tai Chi performers can have such an effect by practicing unity on a single stage, imagine what we could accomplish if we each did our best to live according to the principles of harmony in our homes, our schools and our communities. I will leave it to you to imagine what a performance that would be!

  Perhaps you could end the day by singing a short poem with a child or group of children to practice the language of this praiseworthy virtue. Don’t forget to come up with new examples together:

1, 2, 3. This is the power of U-NI-TY. Clap your hands together,

The more the better, put them together.

Do, Re, Mi, Look at you, and look at me. Fa, So, La, Ti.

We are the notes of this me-lo-dy.

Sun, Moon and Stars. The planets have the key:

Always move in har-mo-ny.

Atoms, Cells and Organs. Our health is in their hands.

Order, Justice, and Service nature commands.

What else reminds you of U-NI-TY?

Use your crea-ti-vi-ty!

By Zaynab Twaddell

The Children’s Virtues Development Project

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