By: Hee Na Cho, Class of 2025
When it comes to unity, the question often asked usually does not concern its definition; rather, many choose to consider the question, “Why are we polarized?” As a freshman with no extensive knowledge on political science, I would have trouble explaining where unity stands in the broad realm of American politics. I am, however, better qualified to grapple with my experience of unity, and ultimately, to define it by my own terms.
I come from Seoul, South Korea, the only place on earth to be divided into two countries by a line running across the center of the peninsula. American troops were first stationed there in 1945. What initially began as an effort to halt the spread of communism and achieve unity among the democratic nations essentially split the country into two. What began as a call for “immediate cessation of hostilities” ended up creating further division. Unity has since ceased to exist along the 38th parallel, and it has been this way for as long as anyone can remember. I grew up believing unity to be unachievable. As a child, I often remarked that Korea was like a giant fried egg with two yolks; the favorite joke of every Korean kid was that of Kim Jong-un and the “funny” accent of the North Korean people, whose dialect was recognizable yet so different from our own.
Division, dissonance, imbalance — whatever stood on the other end of the spectrum — had to be the natural state of all matters. Disunity was, and still is, the norm here; unification would signify absolute chaos. At school, I was taught to stand by justice, not unity, for one did not necessarily translate into the other; commonalities did not automatically lead to unity; peace was desirable, but was unity truly the only means to it?
The general consensus among young South Koreans my age is that unification is improbable and unrealistic. We refuse to carry the burden of the distant future because it is not our duty to fulfill that destiny. Instead of trying to understand the viability of unification, we simply refuse to think about it. As dismal as it sounds, pondering the many complexities unification will entail appears to be an apparent waste of our time.
In retrospect, the only unity I have earnestly strived for is between two distinctly different languages, Korean and English. I wanted my languages to be in “complete sync” so that I could always convey what was so well-defined in my mind using both simultaneously. It was an unwitting exercise in futility, however. I have since learned that they are better left separate; some things are better expressed in my native language while others in English.
If disunity has prevailed in my country and personal life, how should I seek it? Have humans not blossomed in the midst of discord and division for centuries? Is disunity itself not a representation of a story told and a life lived? What is unity and why should we even work towards it?
I define unity as growth in harmony; it is more reasonable to describe unity as a “way of interaction” than as an ideal we must attain. When we pledge unity, we make a conscious choice to examine the differences that set us apart. We promise to bridge those differences in a civil manner. Our commitment is to humanity itself, not to our various political parties and socioeconomic backgrounds. Absolute agreement is not required, nor is it realistic, because the manner in which we resolve disagreements formulates our future direction. The task that lies in front of us, then, is one of enduring patience and a strong desire to mediate our differences and conflicts of interest.
I personally believe in unity because it reminds me of what it means to be a living, breathing being: the daunting process of forming connections through unity requires great conviction, and therein lies the infinite human capacity for hope. Unity is a sort of “coming of age” by which we learn to climb uphill together. The road gets slippery sometimes, and we struggle, but that does not mean it should be abandoned altogether. Only when we embrace these challenges and move forward can there be actual, meaningful change. If our fundamental purpose is to live life to its fullest, do we not at least owe it to ourselves to strive for positive progress? Unity is not a static state—it requires action. I believe this constant motion is what holds us together. It keeps us sane.
Hee Na Cho
Vanderbilt University, Class of 2025
Majors: Political Science and Biochemistry
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea