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E Pluribus Unum

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The Great Seal of the United States, which we find on today's dollar bill, contains the Latin motto of E Pluribus Unum - "Out of Many, One." At the time of the suggestion of this motto in 1776, it clearly reflected the unification of 13 states into one nation.

The question, though, is whether this motto is merely a historical celebration of a political alliance or whether it is a deeper commitment embedded in the DNA of our country that can help us chart a course forward for our next American evolution.

If the first were the case, we could assume our country's mission was completed long ago: a singular feat of rebellion, independence and nation-founding. However, the original 13 colonies have grown into 50 states, covering a geographic area perhaps ten times the size of the original colonies. The mission of creating a greater political union has thus been a dynamic process rather than a singular event.

If we take E Pluribus Unum seriously as a motto, it also points beyond political alliances to a spiritual role that America has charted for itself: to lead towards increasingly greater wholes, especially ones that are more integrated, healthy, and inclusive. Spiritual leaders from all the world's great religious traditions point to the experience of oneness at the core of spiritual teachings. As Jesus said, "I am in my Father, ye in me and I in you." There is an experience where the seemingly solid boundaries between us dissolve and we recognize our unity in a larger whole.

The creation of greater political unions works in tandem with the shift in consciousness towards greater wholes. Without the latter, expanded political unions tend to destabilize. Both political and spiritual shifts stabilize when we recognize that we are more virtuous, fulfilled, and stronger through our active participation in a greater whole rather than through reinforcing our isolation. When we truly, deeply recognize our unity, we stop fearing, hating, or attempting to destroy the other. We expand the definition of our tribe.

War is an expression of our "manyness" whereas peace is an expression of our "oneness." Seen deeply enough, then, America has charted a course for itself where it must lead beyond the wars that have characterized one long epoch of human civilization - a time of perceived "manyness"- to an era in which our sense of "one-ness" triumphs.

Over the last 230 years, America has had considerable growing pains in embodying our motto of E Pluribus Unum. The noble principles of our founding charter have often been compromised by the dominance of our lower natures. For much of our history, the tendency to segregate and reinforce the sense of "many-ness" has led to gross racial injustice, beginning with slavery and gradually shifting into less overt forms of racism. The impulse towards racism runs counter to our motto of E Pluribus Unum. The same is true of ruthless forms of capitalism, classism, and the subordination of women

Some of the shifts into alignment with E Pluribus Unum are on their way to being accomplished. Others are barely begun, such as our full acceptance of homosexuals, immigrants, and these days, members of other political parties.

With each passing decade, our motto calls upon us to evolve still further individually, socially, and collectively. It calls us to illuminate where are we creating divides rather than finding where our interests, ideals, and dreams are interlinked.

Politically, aligning with E Pluribus Unum means that we need to continue to strengthen global accords, agreements, alliances, partnerships, and development. We will need to let go of the level of national self-interest we have often displayed and encourage the United Nations and other structures to develop in healthy ways. A narrowly-defined national self-interest perpetuates the sense of many-ness in the countries of the world rather than our one-ness as a planet.

Spiritually, aligning with E Pluribus Unum means we need to outgrow seeing ourselves primarily as Americans and begin to foster a sense of ourselves as global citizens. When we see ourselves exclusively as Americans who are looking out only for "our" interests, we perpetuate the sense of "many-ness" that breeds war, suspicion, and mistrust.

By bringing our country back into alignment with our motto, we can help advance a historical transition beyond a global culture of war to an enduring civilization of peace. And that is why I believe the simple Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum was inscribed on our most sacred seal.

Sacred America Series #4
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Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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