Plato, possibly the most significant philosopher of ancient Athens and initiator of the first institution of learning in the Western World about 2,400 years ago, posed a very powerful question that has echoed through civilisations and down the ages: “Is there anything worse for a state than to be split and disunited? Or anything better than cohesion and unity?”
Almost without exception throughout the world, the realities of the crucial need for social cohesion dominates the thinking and motivation of those who have the best interests of their communities or nations at heart.
Sadly, there are those who benefit economically or politically from the advancement of mistrust, disunity and a breakdown of relations.
Analysis of the reasons for a lack of social cohesion generally seems to flag misunderstandings, unfounded suspicion, false indoctrination and fear of the unknown as the precepts that foment and nourish this dangerous condition.
Mahatma Gandhi made two powerful observations that are also pearls of wisdom of universal appeal and relevance in: “Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions.
“Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits.
“Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values.
“Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny” and “relationships are based on four principles: respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation.” The inescapable realities of the political and economic development of our planet reflects exploration of foreign lands, conquests, subjugation, displacement and clashes of cultures and belief systems.
These have been the cause and nourishment of strife and disharmony.
The “global village” nature of our world in recent times has added to the dynamics at play.
This has paradoxically both added a dimension of advancing cohesion and fanned the flames of disunity in some nations and communities.
Bertrand Russell, in his 1945 book A History of Western Philosophy, highlights the complexity and challenging nature of the path to social cohesion: “Social cohesion is a necessity, and mankind has never yet succeeded in enforcing cohesion by merely rational arguments.
“Every community is exposed to two opposite dangers: ossification through too much discipline and reverence for tradition, on the one hand; and on the other hand, dissolution, or subjection to foreign conquest through the growth of individualism and personal experience that makes cooperation impossible.”
And in our “Rainbow Nation”, one of the icons of social cohesion and masters of unification, understanding and trust, the late Nelson Mandela, as well as the 2019 Rugby World Cup win, epitomised what can be achieved when a nation unites. The Springboks’ rallying call of “Stronger Together” took us back to the halcyon days of the Mandela era with its hope and trust, optimism and belief in the future. Siya Kolisi, Rassie Erasmus and their team showed us the way.
Mal Fletcher’s view has powerful relevance to our SA context as we fervently hope for the rekindled flame of cohesion and unity to burn brightly to overcome the effects of the corrupt and those with vested interests in disunity:
“Cohesion means respectful diversity, which is about much more than weak-kneed tolerance.”
In SA, we are in dire need of infinitely more than “weak-kneed” tolerance.