solidarity

a thread that’s running through life these days is solidarity. it’s got me wondering what it means, what it looks like, what it calls for.

a couple of weeks ago, i spent the day with a friend who is a community organizer. an escalating issue called for his attention, threatening coalitions that had been carefully forming for a long time. trauma was the culprit: one parties’ pain spilling out in anger and blame–no one could do enough, be enough; trauma was blocking relationship. folks were ready to step away. enough was enough. my friend wisely drew in closer to listen to this party’s pain with compassion and then to make clear that the behavior was not acceptable as it was causing harm. he offered three choices, including one that would end the relationship. he also asked that the choice not be made in that moment but with some time, to consider the choices and the consequences and what felt right.

as he shared this story, i was moved by his genuine compassion and detachment to the outcome. it struck me that his gracious offer of choice activated solidarity. there was something about his compassion and the role it played in the act of inviting choice that offered insight into the practice of solidarity. this shifted my thinking of solidarity from solely as the decision to act in unity to also include the offering of a clear choice to do so. the key to this shifting and inclusion was to experience compassion as an essential element of acting in solidarity.

compassion is to join in the suffering of another; literally, it is to “suffer with”. pema chodron offers this: “compassion is a relationship between equals. only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. compassion becomes real only when we recognize our shared humanity.”

the power of compassion is at the heart of all spiritual teachings and religions. it is proclaimed in the psalms and prophets of Judaism, in the cross of Christ, in the path of the Buddhist bodhisattva, and in the heart of Islam. and yet, we still forget (or fail to remember!) that these wisdom traditions invoke a return to our own inner world so as to resource our capacity to live accordingly.

compassion compels solidarity; compassion compels life.

the English word solidarity comes from the Latin solidus (integrate and whole) and later French solidaire (interdependent). as living beings, we are all inherently integrated and interdependent. when this reality is not acknowledged and acted upon–as COVID and the climate crisis continue to reveal–there is a failure to act in solidarity. our inherent and interconnecting life force is willfully fractured.

compassion allows for the practice of solidarity through activation of choice. regardless of the choice made–and the capacity of all parties to consciously respond (as opposed to reactively, from triggered emotions)–there is solidarity in the invitation to choose.

expanding the concept of solidarity to include not just the decisive act but the process of choosing puts even more responsibility (and power) on the ones harmed (and healed). after all, it is generally the party who is aware of the harm done who then points out the need to reimagine, pivot, change course and repair. through the awareness of harm, a different, more healthy and whole possibilities are revealed.

as i’ve paid attention to the threads of solidarity and compassion these last couple of weeks, i’ve been so moved by their transformative power. when we stand in our difference and open to one another and our interdependence, possibilities are endless.

for example, the other day i was in a group when a question about a recent institutional decision was raised. how did we feel about it? as each of us shared honestly–ranging from feelings of outrage to despair to fear to not caring–there grew among us a sense of our breadth and depth as leaders/activists. our ability to hold difference and diversity emboldened us and illuminated what was possible among us, if we stayed together–which is not the same as agree. but we could (and we did!) agree to love and respect one another, to honor the dignity of each of us and each of our experiences.

solidarity asks us to join with one another’s suffering–to trust another’s experience even when (maybe mostly when)–we do not know it as ours.

in fact, acting in solidarity and the ways in which we are interconnected and interdependent begins with the willingness to not know. it requires the listening to others and the acceptance of what they are saying as a piece of the greater truth, even when we do not understand it. that piece might not align with my piece–in fact, it might be in opposition–and still, how can we hold it, alongside ours? and then act, accordingly?

there is a such a strong urge to know, to get it, to be right, to have the answers. can we hold multiple perspectives and various truths, expanding the scope of reality to its fuller dimension? we’re not intended to know or understand everything–that is why we exist in such complex, dynamic, living systems. others help to reveal essential parts of the whole that are inaccessible to us. through others, we can access and honor this wholeness in our world and in ourselves. if we choose.

life comes in the acceptance of our interdependence and the acting on it. when we don’t, there is death. again, COVID and the climate crisis are revealing this reality.

the human body also helps me to conceptualize this. the immune system depends on connectedness and feedback to determine what is healthy and what is not and how to respond accordingly. the health of our body is determined by its acting in solidarity. when it is not receiving feedback and acting in this way, it cannot support the larger human body system. disease sets in and ultimately, death.

it reminds me of one of my favorite passages from the Bible: “The branch cut off from the vine is useless.” –John 15:5.

what’s coming up for me as i follow these threads of compassion and solidarity is that in the willful fracturing of solidarity, there is death. there is a failure to participate in the lifeblood of our inherent interdependence. AND, solidarity is enacted by those that act from compassion–the joining in the suffering (one’s own and others) to activate choice and responsiveness. from this place of power and love, that lifeblood is protected and sustained. regardless of what the willful fracturing. i imagine the human body, sloughing off a diseased part. this understanding underscores the force of life–that it is always moving and pulsing in solidarity.

the question becomes how might i act with responsibility and compassion in the participation of that solidarity/life force?

i’m reflecting on all the times i’ve walked out on relationships and work projects and justice movements when i wasn’t getting what i wanted with a self-righteous “peace out!” or “effit.” or “oh, hell no.” for sure, this is sometimes warranted. and now, with this nuanced understanding of solidarity, i’m wondering how much more liberating and loving and powerful a compassionate practice of solidarity might be.

i’m imagining this practice to involve the simple and yet challenging steps of: 1) knowing what i want/need 2) expressing this 3) inviting clear choice to/with others and 4) genuinely allowing for choice. and repeat.

if life is a dance, practicing solidarity is an important dance step. the dance will continue, regardless of our clumsy missteps. it comes down to how much we want to shake our bootie and/or how long we’re willing to sit out the dance.

i personally want to shake my ass.

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