So often, pleas for unity and cooperation spread silence rather than enthusiasm. A YouTube video of a motivational speaker showed him raise the spirits of his audience by encouraging attitudes of self-empowerment in leadership, enabling people to face challenges with confidence. Vocal affirmations across the audience brought people to their feet, until he spoke his key point, “And to achieve success, you’ll need to cooperate and work as a team.” A wave of quietening and sitting down in seats spread through the auditorium. Eyes turned to fix on the speaker, not on the neighbour in the row of seats, with whom they had previously been directed to speak words of affirmation.

Everybody knows instinctively that unity means grief, not joy. It means loss of freedoms to do what I want. It means loss of ability to keep people at a distance to avoid interaction. It means choosing to put time to respond to others. It means hearing others’ hearts when I don’t even know my own. It means letting go of the purposes I had in mind to help someone else achieve theirs. It means trusting in turn-taking, and that I shall be assertive enough when it is my turn. It means believing that I won’t be rejected for making a fool of myself in front of others.

And that’s just a start in general terms, before each individual gets into the specifics of what they are reluctant to see change in their own daily life. It means availability.

What realistically can compensate for this amount of loss? Not power, surely! Not the sort of power that imposes my sense of order on other people’s chaotic lives as seen from my perspective. That would drive people and local societies into uniformity or conformity, set up hierarchies imagined to be unassailable, add class distinctions to hide behind, reduce innovation, stifle adaptability.

No, but there is a realistic compensation for the personal loss involved in living out unity. It is a subtle form of emerging inner power. It is the power of choice to first name my own and other people’s values (by naming them first as ‘what I would miss if…’), and then before situations get overly stressed, secondly choosing to act in a way that protects other people’s values equally with my own. Having a healthy respect for the way grief reveals personal values turns all those horrible grief emotions into preventive power! They become the energy to sustain life in the face of challenges that would oppress life. This anticipation and power of choice is the substance of unity-with-diversity. Diversity can flourish in that unity to sustain life’s freedoms.

Historically, the stress of plagues and pandemics has caused mistrust and separation and economic decline. It is no different now, except that social media has the power to connect people over distances previously unimaginable. Naming personal values to each other could overcome fear by opening doors to cooperation, restoring the unity needed to recover economically. Moving from shock, where I doubt my resources, to cooperative growth where we together develop new resources… This is the useful purpose of creative grief in unity.