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David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole.
If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however the material is © 2014 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
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#86 E PLURIBUS…MULTUM?
As I sit here this morning writing this essay, a parade has just passed our house. It’s our annual neighborhood Fourth of July parade: no brass bands but lots of kids on lots of flag- and bunting-decorated bicycles and tricycles accompanied by smiling parents. With our kids grown, Julie and I are now spectators, standing and waving and cheering as the “thronglet” goes by (there aren’t enough people for a proper throng). They are headed to our neighborhood park where the traditional hot dogs and lemonade and lawn games await. Julie and I were down there earlier helping to set up, doing our patriotic bit to support this American celebration. I know a good time will be had by all, and as a bonus, this year it’s not raining!
All of this, of course, puts me in mind of the United States of America. Our country, one could argue, has had several “births”. President Lincoln, for instance, on November 19, 1863, in his remarks dedicating the new National Cemetery at Gettysburg, said that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom”, and for many scholars, the Civil War truly was the beginning of a new nation. But the event that first gave us our political identity was the Declaration of Independence signed 238 years ago today.
One of the mottos on the Great Seal of the United States is the Latin phrase e pluribus unum, which means “Out of the many, one.” This was the effect of the long deliberations through a hot Philadelphia summer in 1776 as delegates from thirteen different colonies hammered together the compromises that transformed them from a collection of what were effectively many small nations into one single political identity, the United States. And ever since, one of the narratives about this country is that it is a place where many nationalities, many languages, many cultures, many peoples become one. The strength of America, it is said, comes from it being a melting pot.
Or does it?
There are many situations in which unity is a good thing. After all, this country fought a civil war to preserve what the signers of the Declaration worked so hard to achieve in 1776. But there are also times when being “many”, not “one”, is important.
Consider the phenomenon of crowdsourcing, which James Surowiecki discusses in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds. In his words, “Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” Also, “…when our imperfect judgments are aggregated in the right way, our collective intelligence is often excellent.”
This “wisdom of crowds,” as he calls it, is one of the reasons we have trial by jury rather than by judge. The collective reasoning and deliberation of twelve diverse individuals is considered to be a more accurate way of arriving at the truth than by turning everything over to one legal expert.
If we look at a history of the United States, we can easily see the contributions and strengths that have arisen out of the diversity of our citizenry. When everyone thinks alike, there can be a focus of purpose but a diminishment of wisdom. Insights and information are lost when only a few voices are heard and contributions are limited to those few rather than coming from the many.
Not that the many can’t make mistakes, too. Sometimes crowds can be very stupid whereas a single person can embody the needed wisdom. But just a cursory examination of the history of life on earth shows that Nature puts a premium on diversity and that monocultures are almost universally lacking when it comes to possessing the resilience to adapt to changes in the environment.
So often in spiritual thought and teaching, we privilege unity and oneness. We think of the Sacred as The One rather than as The Many. We would like to find a single, infallible source to guide us, whether we call it God, the Soul, the High Self, or some other term. Out of the “pluribus” of our own lives, we’d like to find “unum”.
And there is no question that there are times when this is important, when we need let “our eye be single” as the Bible says and speak “with one voice.” Internal coherency, focus, and single-mindedness are powerful and necessary assets in the right moment and the right circumstances.
But while e pluribus unum gives one kind of strength, e pluribus multum (“Out of many, Many”) gives another. A diversity of points of view, a diversity of voices, a diversity of information may give us deeper insights than a single perspective, voice or source can do. For instance, in my work, I often hear people say, “I want to listen only to the voice of my Soul” or of some important spiritual ally, forgetting that the voices of their body, their personality, their common sense, their reasoning, and of the common experience of humanity may also have important and needed things to contribute.
Of course, listening to and finding the wisdom in many voices is harder work than listening to one voice. Any one of those many voices might be misinformed, biased, and just plain wrong. But then, this can be true with a single voice as well.
Working with diversity is never easy. Unity seems so much simpler. But both have wisdom and gifts to offer if we are willing to be discerning and take the time to use them both and see which may be more applicable to a particular situation. The path to wisdom is neither easy nor undemanding; if it were, we’d be seeing much more wisdom being exercised in our world. As with so much in the spiritual world, it is a paradoxical path, one honoring the extremes and asking us to find the balance between them.
Which means our motto should be e pluribus unum et multum: Out of Many, One and Many.
David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however the material is ©2014 by David Spangler.
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