Unity can only be achieved when we are willing to let down our guards and see from the other party’s point of view. We must respect others for their differences just as we expect them to respect our cultural practices and norms.

The first step towards respecting others is to understand themselves and ourselves. Insecure peoples who put down others to glorify their own culture have no space in their lives for tolerance and mutual coexistence. pmo3244.jpgThere needs to be a delicate balance between pride in one’s culture and acceptance of other beliefs and lifestyles at the same time. This is easier said than done. When one culture dictates norms that transgress on another’s beliefs, finding a common ground seems impossible and hostility becomes inevitable. When a culture which practices polygamy comes head to head with a monogamous society that is also struggling with AIDS, the differences seem insurmountable. More often than not, the strong will dictate the terms and ride roughshod over the weak. Survival of the fittest is as true for culture as it is for nature. When different faiths claim that their god is the only true one who can save them from damnation, a clash is inevitable. Wars grow out of such differences, and sadly like in the story of the Tower of Babel, none will end up reaching God’s kingdom.

How can such extreme measures be reduced or avoided? One needs to respect humanity regardless of race, religion and cultural differences. As Professor Higgins of Pygmalion noted: treat a flower girl like a duchess and a duchess like a flower girl. They are after all human beings with the same faculties for sadness and happiness, pleasure and pain, as well as desires and repulsions. This was observed by Shakespeare, the timeless poet of the human soul.

Perhaps this is the eternal paradox of human existence: the animal instinct to destroy others for survival combine with the prickling conscience to empathise with others’ suffering and reflect on our actions. We could never achieve universal unity for then, we would lose our instincts to survive or eliminate the enemy, which is the story of our evolution. Perhaps, evolution and religion are not two irreconcilable theories but parts of the same puzzle after all. And they make unity a constant but inaccessible dream.