The word UNITY. We hear that word a lot these days; about being together. About team and a collective of people. When we think of the word “unity”, we think about rallying around our favorite sports teams; rallying around our favorite person or politician; and on the world stage, rallying around the country we live in and its ideals. Yes, unity is a word that can feel heavy, and shouldn’t be tossed around lightly.
Sometimes though, I think unity isn’t defined enough for people. Sometimes I feel like we don’t really understand why “unity” is more than just a word to mean “together”. Especially these days, when we can say the word “united” in some instances, and then go back to individualism and self-over-others at the drop of a hat. Yes, we can use the word “unity” in our daily lexicon—in our internal dictionaries and thesaurus—but understanding the impact and the real motivating force behind using it is pretty important.
There is a big reason why you can’t spell “UNITY” without U-N-I.
Let’s go way back in time. I mean way back, all the way to the 1300s. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1303, which would pretty much give a reason for the Hundred Years’ War to start between England and France. In the 1300s, the Ottoman Turks were still a very powerful entity, and they were constantly fighting with the Byzantine Empire. And a favorite piece of history of mine, Dante wrote the Divine Comedy, with the likes of the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso being some of the most influential pieces of literature to come out of Italy.
The 1300s (or if you want, you can call it the 14th century) were an interesting period of time. But the reason I wanted you to look back to the 1300s isn’t because of cool literature and war. On the contrary, the word “unity” derived from the 1300s! If we take a look at etymology, we can see it defined as the following:
“’state or property of being one’, from Anglo-French unite, Old French unite ‘uniqueness, oneness’”
First, focus on the definition, “state or property of being one”.
This concept of unity was specifically designed with one thought in mind: to help multiple people, two or more, understand that as a unit of being one, anything can happen. It highlights the concept that one great imagination is okay, but if you bring in and hook up multiple great imaginations together, you get a spectacular vision! I can only assume that when the Ottoman Turks were getting ready to take down the Byzantines, they grabbed each other’s shoulders, looked each other in the eye and said something to the effect of, “Brother, we are one army today. One arm, one sword, one man. Today we win as one!”
There’s a reason why unity is spelled with U-N-I. Because without cooperation; without a sense of duty to not only oneself, but to the man or woman beside you, your aspirations will only go so far.
Your strength as an individual can only carry you a certain distance until you run out; until you need someone to be there to prop you up and fight with you. And you will run out.
Take a second gander at the Old French term unite. It says, “uniqueness, oneness”. Wait a second—no one said anything about uniqueness! What is that word doing in there? How does being unique have anything to do with being a team?
James Watson was a Ph.D. degree recipient from Indiana University Bloomington, studying Zoology of all things. At IU, he found a particular interest in genetics with H.J Muller, T.M Sonneborn and S.E Luria. He would later go on to be intrigued by the study of DNA at Cavendish Laboratory in 1951. Henry Crick was a B.Sc. graduate from University College, London and worked as a scientist during the war in 1939—he studied mines. But get this: in 1947 Henry Crick had no real idea about biology or organic chemistry or crystallography, and studied his butt off for years to learn. Those are things he needed to know to go on to do what he did with Watson, that is, be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for determining the structure of the DNA molecule!
These two gentleman were very smart, sure. But individually they were very different people. One was a graduate from an American university and studied Zoology, and happened to get interested in microbiology. Another was from England; for a large part of time studied mines of all things, and then studied endlessly for years leading up to his amazing joint discovery, because he had no real prior knowledge of biology, organic chemistry and crystallography. On paper you would look at the duo and say, “How did you two figure out the structure of a DNA molecule?”
Yet together they were a force. A tandem of talent. They went on to make one heck of an important discovery for civilization and science.
And that is because they were united in uniqueness!
What makes unity, and a true bonding of people, produce astounding results isn’t that they are both awesome at one subject. What makes unity, unity, is just like the Old French definition suggests—the power comes from the coming together of uniqueness. When one individual is strong at one thing while his or her partner is weak, that doesn’t make the team weak. No, it should do just the opposite—individual talents push each other, create healthy tension and produce real productivity. When you get different strengths that cover different weaknesses; and different perspectives to push you out of your comfort zone, a team becomes more than individuals, it becomes one. And that one, then, is able to achieve the impossible.
When people say the old adage, “Opposites attract,” they usually are just saying, “You like rock and I like classical”. Honestly I think that adage is kind of ridiculous. I think that because the opposing parts of us don’t attract each other. “Wow, you detest the things I’m passionate about, that’s great,” isn’t something we all want to think when we go into relationships with people.
I believe it is more about us coming to terms with the real meaning of unity, and welcoming the things that makes us unique, not opposite, to create an even more original, and spectacular, one body. A core of similar ideals that has the strength of a thousand differing elements combined.
Proverbs 27:17, one of my favorite verses for unity that I live by, says so succinctly, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (NIV).
You can’t spell unity without U-N-I. And you can’t spell unique without those letters, either.
Written by: Michael “Bboy Roach1” Roach