Solidarity (Noun)


I am attempting to engage in thoughtful dialogue. That isn’t a story that I’m telling, I mean this blog post. Often times I think I can’t and shouldn’t bother. I’m not particularly enlightened, and I think the Internet is too corrupt, and our expectations of human interaction are too perverse and warped by the Information Age. But I’m here anyway.

I love words too much to stay away forever. I need a lot of words just to get through my day. I depend on them to pacify myself in times of fear, to justify myself in times of insecurity, to make connections with others, and always to bring cosmos out of chaos.

I also hate words. I hate the way we don’t believe each other’s words, and don’t have reason to, since falsehood is the first language of our political sphere, and everybody knows it. I hate the way that certain words divide us: the way we align ourselves under our preferred labels like tables in the high school cafeteria. And I hate the way that a word can be a battle ground, as different camps fight to claim and wield the power of identifiers like feminist, Christian, sinner, citizen, queer.

I found a dictionary so I could look up “solidarity.” I don’t have a paper dictionary of my own, since I am travelling light these days, and also trying not to merit the derogatory term “Luddite.” But I found one in the house from 1992. It’s a nice big fat red one, from college days, or maybe high school graduation. Lifting it gives credence to the notion that words have weight. Here’s what I found:

Solidarity: Unanimity of attitude or purpose, as between members of a group or class. 

Then I had to go and look up “unanimity”:

Unanimity: The state or quality of being unanimous; a consensus or undivided opinion. 

That’s the paradox. Who in the hell is accustomed to consensus? Can we even imagine consensus? We can’t agree on anything.  Not presidents. Not paint colors. Certainly not policy or practicality. Where do we get off, Jaysen and Ben and I, three white folks in the belly of the empire, claiming for our blog link-up this lofty word, solidarity?

Now you can watch me slip into the language of a faith tradition, in this blog post, just as I do in real life. It may have been this very question that sent me into a faith tradition in the first place. I had survived perfectly well without religion for many other things. But one day I wanted better language for this thing that I know, but didn’t have a way to talk about: that there was some essential truth that binds all human beings together, some space in which we could be unified, where we could meet each other fully, not as listings in the little black book of who has what, but as something more and something less than all our differences.

I knew that place was real, because I had already found it in the theater. The director Joseph Chaikin said that at the extreme of every emotion there is a common ground, and I found his testimony to be accurate. But I have found theater folk and poets to be lousy company on Sunday mornings. These days I usually go to church.

In church I hear the teaching that humans are made in the image of God. And I hear the teaching of Grace. This is the Christian word for our gift of living vulnerability: the precious ability that we have to be affected, to forgive and be forgiven, to share the growth and change that makes us human.

If we are like God, then in our essence we are mystery. We are potential energy. We are free spirit. What if we could all agree on that?

This is the solidarity that I’m gunning for. It isn’t unanimity of political party. It isn’t about teams or titles or paint colors. It is the consensus agreement that human beings in our essence are free and capable of change.

This is a reasonable definition of love, I think: to believe that no matter what you see on the outside of a person, no matter how calcified and secure their identity may seem, in truth they are completely free to do something quite different.  And this is maybe the work of love, as well: to always be making room for someone to get better.

It is hard to keep those gaps open. I want solidarity with the poor, so I write a check. I want solidarity among races, so I call someone a racist. I want solidarity among citizens of the United States, so I vote the way I vote and hope on Tuesday that more than half of the country is as smart as I am.

We chose this topic partly because of the elections, because we’re all so fed up with the hate speech and the wrong speech and the false speech. But what can we do about it? How do we live into the spaces between the bubbles and the check marks? Does anyone see a path between this vision of spiritual solidarity and the reality of the world we live in?

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5 thoughts on “Solidarity (Noun)

  1. Esther, I love LOVE your definition of Grace- especially the part about the ability to affect and be affected, and our human ability (and one of our greatest blessings) to change. Those words, that simple idea heaves a great weight up off of my shoulders… to be given permission to change? Wow. And what work, allowing space for others to change. Being less fixed in our ideas of who someone is, what is in and out of character for them… that practice alone could change this world.

  2. goodness, i appreciate your open heart and generosity in sharing your faith journey. i can imagine so many people benefitting from it, because you talk so honestly about that gray space of mystery that so many of us try to avoid even recognizing as existing. you sum it up so well with one of your last questions – “How do we live into the spaces between the bubbles and the check marks?” that space, that place of mystery is where we gather if we do want solidarity. that space where love, where grace allows us to “be” even if “being” is beyond fully defining, as i think it is. if we can accept this, then our speech – our words would, i think, take on a kindness and patience for each other. thank you ~ j

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