Plato, possibly the most significant philosopher of 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 civilizations and down the ages:
“Is there anything worse for a state than to be split and disunited or anything better than cohesion and unity?”
Throughout the world, almost without exception, the realities of the crucial need for social cohesion dominates the thinking and motivation of those who have the best interests of their communities at heart.
But then, 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:
“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 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 communities.
Bertrand Russell, in his 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’, the 2019 Rugby World Cup win epitomised what can be achieved when people unite.
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 South African 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 the weak-kneed tolerance,” Fletcher said.
In SA, we are in dire need of infinitely more than “weak-kneed” tolerance.