I was introduced to the expression “E Pluribus Unum” in the fifth grade. It was then that I was told that it translated into “Out of many, one” meaning that despite the divisions and factions in this country, it remained one country united. But more and more, I think that the “one” in “Out of many, one” has come to mean one person: myself.
The notion first came to my attention in college when a group of my friends and I were discussing the existence of God. The conversation had shifted to morality and the determining factors surrounding who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. One of my friends argued that any true god would not send a good person to Hell.
When asked what being a good person entailed, this same friend responded that anyone who lived their lives without causing anyone harm was a good person.
This struck a chord with me at the time because it seemed to, on the surface, express what Jesus had taught when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Certainly, how a person measures harm to another would be based in how it harms himself.
And yet, I disagreed with my friend because there was something in me that said that that was not the whole truth. I responded that night that the object of morality should not be to do the least harm, but to do the greatest good. The conversation continued, the night was ended and life moved on.
But the conversation stuck with me. And eventually I came to see why the notion that my friend had brought up disturbed me so much and how inadequate my response that night was.
There is a problem when you agree wholly with your moral code. Because when this happens, it means that either you are the perfect person because you never break it or your moral code is centered on your values and your individual values alone.
Now, I have yet to meet any person who fulfills the former, so I have to assume that the latter is the case. And the danger behind this is that, when people see harm to others only in light of how the same harm might affect them, it becomes relative. Morality is individualized and the concept of a shared, objective, and universal morality is gone.
And the most tragic consequence of this that I see played out is a lack of compassion. And you can see this played out in news stories across the country by people across the political spectrum.
In the tragic shooting of two journalists on live television, the first instinct of many people was to consider how this latest shooting will galvanize people who want to attack their God-given rights rather than to mourn over the loss of two people whose fear we could readily see on-screen.
In the Duke/”Fun Home” controversy, many people who are not offended by the images in the graphic biography fail to even consider that others might be sensitive to the same images they consider to be harmless.
Polls say that this country is the most polarized it has been since the Civil War and that a lot of this is due to the fact that many people dehumanize those on the other side of the political spectrum. Maybe it is time that we bring back some compassion back or, to use the word that Jesus used, to love others. Maybe then we can get back from one person to one country.
I have hit on some topics here that are way bigger than a 600-word blog post. So there are sure to be things I neglected or things that may be clear to me and unclear to you. If that is the case, please feel free to reach out to me so we can discuss this is greater detail. Thanks.
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