Joe Biden’s inaugural address as the 46th President of the United States mentioned several aspects of community and diplomacy. The following is my takeaway.
Unity As The Goal
One concept in Mr. Biden’s speech was “unity.” He said, “With unity we can do great things. Important things. … We can deliver racial justice.”
Recognizing the frivolity of speaking to unity during times of challenge and instability, he continued, “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy.” This phrase reverberated what I wrote in a recent article speaking to exploring “harmony” in order to normalize U.S.-China relations, where I said, “It may sound trite to some.” But Biden forged on, invoking the power of good over evil, saying, “Our ‘better angels’ have always prevailed.”
When we live in unity, we also experience “community.” Neither community nor diplomacy can be attained without unity. With this, I interpret the meaning of community as common-unity.
But, I question whether the routine concept of community has not also become an invisible force for division? Do we use “community” to create separation between others? We may refer to “our community” speaking of those we hang with, those who think like me and have similar values.
As I focused on President Biden’s delivery, as he stood at the podium with the U.S. Capitol rising behind him, I could not help but reflect on how his words resounded with our national deficit of diplomacy skills stretching across cultural and ideological borders. I pondered a different world. A world we live in both at home and abroad where his words apply correspondingly to U.S. diplomatic relations.
Unity Built On Commonality
In my mind, Biden’s words echoed Zhou Enlai‘s plea for unity in a speech he gave at a meeting of nations in Indonesia in 1955. Zhou said, “求同存异,” suggesting that the participants focus on similarities and put differences aside.
I pondered as Biden said:
History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. … Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.(Excerpts of President Joe Biden’s Inaugural Address taken from CNN Politics)
President Biden made a strong plea to the American people to join in common-unity and build community. Can we accomplish this by seeking out commonalities that unite, rather than considering differences that divide? But first, we need to shift how we see others. Reflecting on Zhou’s words, when we perceive similarities, we access “community” for unity, not “community” for division.
Foster Community Across Borders
Can we as Americans face the challenge that the Leader of the Free World invited us to within our own borders? That much more, can we achieve the same outcome of community and diplomacy outside of those borders?
Suppose we hold firm to the spirit of these two leaders’ words and carry them to the world. In that case, we may encounter a point of balance, a “happy medium,” from which to move forward, harmonizing relations with nations and individuals that we otherwise place on the outside.
The Happy Medium Of Community And Diplomacy
“Happy medium” is the core ideal of the《中庸》i.e. “The Doctrine of the Mean.” Its central tenet focuses on how to achieve a happy medium. The character 中, pronounced zhōng and meaning “center,” expresses this concept well. The character contains two components: “口” and “│.” The square represents the “whole” — the whole of Yin Yang. The verticle line represents the focal point of balance. Looking at the character 中, we also see the Tai Ji, representing the perfect balance between two halves or two expressions of one unit. That could be black/white, good/bad, or any two expressions representing one concept-unit divided into two. The “happy medium” and diplomacy lie at the center.
Joe Biden spoke words to respect and cooperation — the foundation for both community and diplomacy. Sans respect, both are out of reach. It is a learned skillset that often requires one to fail while struggling to balance — eventually reaching the center. Once we arrive, we gain a 360-degree peripheral view of situations and effortlessly recognize the best ways to maintain the balance.
However, when stuck on one side, unopened to understanding the other side, we would best tap into our “better angels” to adjust and recalibrate. When misapplied, “community” may divide us. But when applied correctly, “community” serves to unite us.
Relationships Support Community and Diplomacy
Nurturing relationships is the core of attaining the “happy medium” mentioned in “The Doctrine of the Mean”: Seek harmonious relations among officials, children, spouse, siblings, and friends, and nurture them with the three moral skillsets of wisdom, benevolence, and bravery.
No matter from what country, culture, language, or period, a similar appeal resounds in the words of Joe Biden’s inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol. As he said, “Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, a saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.”
Echoing the same message, Zhou Enlai spoke in 1955 using only four characters, “求同存异,” when he called on the foreign delegates to focus on commonalities and put aside differences.
Considering this, can a nation struggling to find balance amongst their own recognize the call for unity spanning across boundaries and borders, connecting cultures near and far? Cultivating unity and focusing on similarities are remedies that heal the hearts and minds of those who see more differences than similarities.
I ask myself, am I able to take from the words of both Joe Biden and Zhou Enlai to foster change in my life?