“One” by U2, one of the most famous songs in popular music, provides one answer. Like many of U2’s works, this is a complex song full of drama, tension, pessimism and hope.
There are two voices in this song, one that is bitter and one that responds in love. The opening lines question someone’s happiness now that they can blame someone else. The response to this is “one love,” and a warning that if he doesn’t care for this love it will go away.
The response in the second verse is even more angry, “you act like you never had love, and you want me to go without.” He states it’s too late to bring up the crimes of the past and while he acknowledges they are one, they are not the same.
The argument continues in the next verse as he pleads: “did I ask too much . . . you gave me nothing now that’s all I got.” After stating the pain they cause each other, the other person is allowed to respond saying, “love is a temple, love is a higher law.” This almost biblical viewpoint of love is immediately bashed down with the climactic lines:
You ask me to enter,At the end the anger becomes acceptance, “one life, you got to do what you should.” And while they are different they are sisters and brothers who through their connections have to take care of each other.
But then you make me crawl.
And I can't be holding on,
To what you got,
When all you got is hurt.
As angry as we get with each other, it is impossible to ignore that we are connected. Wee as humanity share one blood, one life and are connected in more ways that we want to admit to ourselves. And yes, we can break-up with each other but it’s hard because in those moments we have to reconcile the bitterness with that deep and very real human connection we have with everybody on this planet.
If we weren’t connected as a human race, we wouldn’t fight with each other. It’s because we share so much with each other that can’t let things go. The conflict we have with others is a reflection of our own thoughts. In this way “One” is as much an argument between two people as a conflict within ourselves.
What is “one” saying? Is it arguing that we should be bitter about these ties that draw us into conflict or is it saying that we need to focus on what we share to look past our differences? Watching performances you get the sense that many people look to the chorus with a sense of hope. This is a valid interpretation but it doesn’t fully look at the depth of what U2 is expressing.
U2 created this song while they were on the verge of breaking up in 1991. You hear that conflict in the words but you also here an expression of something that they share, that they are one.
This is the conflict of "With Or Without You" (I wrote about in this early post) broadened to all of our lives. We can't live without each other because we are one but it's so hard to live with each other because those times draw us together in ways that put us at odds with each other.
This tension is a necessary part of life but it doesn't have to define our lives. Even in the bitterness of the arguments, Bono sings, “we get to carry each other.” We get to take care of each other and maybe that is our salvation. In our conflict, we express the love we share and through that the burden of being one becomes connections that define who we are as human beings.