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Cultivating Solidarity

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Last week I read an anecdote from Richard Rohr’s daily mediations about a man working in a food pantry who was feeling overwhelmed by the number of people they had to serve since the pandemic. After meditating on it, he was able to shift his thinking about his work in the food pantry from an act of service to an act of solidarity. When we are serving others, it implies a vertical relationship where someone is up and someone is down. In contrast, solidarity is a horizontal relationship where both parties are equal, committing to being there for one another.

This anecdote struck me on a personal level because, as a therapist and someone taking care of my brother, I spend a lot of time helping people but not a lot of time receiving help. Not because people haven’t offered. I have lots of people who care about me and who encourage me to reach out to them. I just don’t do it very often. Because deep down I think I’m undeserving–of help, of a release from my pain, of happiness. I am serving other people because I’m the person in the one down position.

But the idea of shifting my mindset from service to solidarity reminds me that I am as deserving of help as anyone else. If we’re all in this together, then we can rely on one another for support. Which means it’s OK to ask for and receive help. It’s still hard to ask, but I’m committed to practicing.

I think, too, about what’s going on in the world right now. Arguments about masks vs. freedom, protests vs. riots. This is one of the few times that you would think we could all be on the same page. I often imagined that the only way we could accomplish this was in some alien invasion where we had a unified enemy. In a way, that’s what COVID is. But it seems that even something akin to an alien invasion is not enough to get us to fight the enemy rather than one another. Apparently, we are one another’s greatest enemy. It’s us vs. them. I’m right and you’re wrong. I’m up and you’re down. What will it take for us to be on the same page? Reason, force, shaming, and blaming are not going to do it.

For me, the answer always begins with self-compassion. What is making me feel vulnerable? How can I listen to my own thoughts and feelings with acceptance and forgiveness, even when I have been controlling, judgmental, and condescending. And wrong. Once I can sit with the discomfort inside me, it makes it easier to remember that we’re all in the same boat, doing the best we can to feel valuable, deserving, and equal to everyone else. The best way to fight the enemy within and without is to rely on one another.

We’re all in this together. Let’s help each other get to where we need to be.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

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