Unity in Diversity: a lesson for Eritreans

A theology professor, keen to teach his pupils on unity and love, once gave his students a simple assignment. He gave his students a blank sheet of white paper with nothing but a small black dot in one end and asked them to turn in a written description of the paper.

Eager to impress their professor the students wrote in length addressing every imaginable aspect of their assignment, some of the titles included: “shape and symmetry of the dot” another wrote, “Investigating placement of the dot and its relative location”. A student who majored college in Chemistry wrote “predicting the quality and type of ink”. Those with background in the humanities and social sciences chose to address even deeper aspects: “negative effects of the dot on paper aesthetics”, “impact of a black dot on the price of paper”. The most promising student (and the professor’s favorite) titled his essay, “Can it be removed?”.

After grading all of his students work the professor told them how, predictably, they all missed the most prominent and most important aspect.

In focusing on the peculiar problem, the dot, none of them did justice to the 99% of the page which was bleached white and flawless. Instead, they decided to focus on the problem, they addressed the page as, “the page with a black dot.” The moral of the story is that social groups and organizations (in the professor’s case, church denominations) focus on what is wrong and almost completely ignore the overwhelming aspects that unite them.

The things that divide a lot of Eritrean deleiti-fithi organizations are often few minor points—few and minor when compared to the grand causes that these organizations claim they stand for.

It is not uncommon to see Eritrean civic, humanitarian or political movements (needless to say, all in diaspora) miscommunicate, be-intolerant, engage in loud quarrels and once in a while have bitter divisions. What divides these organizations are often minor points—minor when compared to the grand and noble causes most of these organizations stand for.

Divisions are not necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes divisions are un-avoidable. For example if two organizations have different priorities and/or objectives, such as aid focused organizations vs. organizations aiming to bring political change. Organizations may divide based on incompatible strategies for example non-violent resistance vs. armed insurgency. But what is a bad thing is when these organizations refuse to “agree to disagree” peacefully or they refuse to respect each other’s integrity. Instead many decide to sabotage each other’s work.

One particularly troubling attitude I notice on arguments among Eritrean activists is: many times, people allege ‘hidden’ bad intentions on the person (or group) they are disagreeing with. Why? Because, they claim, because it is impossible to have the opinion their opponent is holding unless one has bad intentions and/or is deliberately refusing to see things their way.