Saturday, February 18, 2017
What does it mean to practice solidarity at a time marked by intense political divisions and alienation? Emily Esfahani Smith has a thoughtful essay in New York magazine about what it means to belong:
[A] sense of belonging based on group membership is a false substitute for the real thing. Psychologists say belonging is defined by being in a relationship or part of a community where you are valued for who you are intrinsically. Just like we need food and water to thrive physically, we need to feel valued, needed, and cared for — like we matter to others — to thrive psychologically. Belonging that requires group affiliation is by nature contingent — your value is defined through associating with the group, not through who you are.
Group membership as a false proxy for belonging is nothing new, of course, but it may have taken on a more intense political dimension as we align ourselves according to the views expressed through our social media feeds and reactions to the President's latest [hateful bomb-throwing / plainspoken truth-telling]. Smith offers a beautifully simple example of the mindset to be reclaimed through the story of a restaurant encounter across the political divide.
Catholics have long taught this idea of unconditional belonging via the principle of solidarity -- the "firm and persevering determination to commit oneself . . . to the good of all and of each individual," as John Paul II put it. This has proven easier to teach than embody, but there's no better time than now to remind ourselves that the most fertile ground in which solidarity can take root is in our immediate sphere of influence, one relationship at a time.
Solidarity has implications for policy debates, to be sure, but if we're not committed to practicing solidarity in our everyday interactions, it can become a hopelessly abstract description of a worldview, which we then deploy as a bludgeon against those who reject that worldview. If we value others intrinsically, our capacity for belonging to one another cannot be a function of our political agreement.