Many, many months ago, when I was writing these notes daily, I turned to the old trick of alphabetical subject matters. I got as far a T before losing my taste for it. The intervening gap is serendipitous because it allows me to pick up where I left off with a timely and fascinating word that seems to be on everybody’s lips right now – Unity.

It is true that everyone, particularly lawmakers, is bandying the word about like an Apple Jack jug at a fish fry. To quote Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, however, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

For most people, Unity is more apparent in the absence than in the presence. It is easy to tell when two sides are at opposite ends of a spectrum and are stubbornly refusing to accept the validity of the other’s ideas. We recognize when there is a failure of accord, largely because everyone is so quick to point fingers at the other side and define the chasm between them. But too many assume that Discord is the opposite of Unity.

Cries of condemnation follow anybody exerting their democratically earned authority, saying that to move forward on one agenda against the will of the minority is fomenting anger and division. It is convenient that the most strident cries for Unity come from that very minority.

Disagreement is not mutually exclusive of Unity, because the latter does not mean to march in lockstep. There is no single idea on which everyone agrees. To find such a cause or ideal is beyond the scope or even the desires of a healthy society. We all need our own beliefs because all our needs are unique.

Unity is not agreement of thought but of direction. We don’t need to agree that we should eat only pizza, just that we should do something to slake our hunger. We do not need to agree that everyone should be given healthcare coverage by the government, just that everyone should have access to medical care. We do not have to agree with a specific legislation, just that the need for action is vital.

Unity is not capitulation, nor is it really compromise. It is the ability to define a common goal and the will to work to achieve it through some means that is somehow acceptable to the greatest number of people. Unity is negotiation and cooperation. It is give-and-take.

Most important, Unity is a situation where everybody at the table has a voice that is respected and considered. By extension, Unity means that everyone at the table must in turn respect and consider all other voices.