As a young twenty-something year old, the communal aspect of the human person baffles and intrigues me. Relationships and community have always been an important aspect in my life. My family has been the leading influence, but my friends, boyfriends, mentors, teachers, etc. have also played key roles in my formation.
Growing up, our family was close and our community tight knit. I was aware of the different groups in my life and aware of the influence these groups had on me. I am convinced I would not be the person I am today without the people that were consistently in my life.
It was not until I was removed from these influences, and left for University, that the communal aspect of human nature became interesting to me. The apparent contradiction between the human person’s independence and their natural need for relationship with others is curious. Community has and always will be a necessary part of the human experience, but so are the unique properties that each person has to offer. So what does this mean for each person? How do we resolve the contradiction of being an individual but communal creature that is built into our very nature?
The Dalai Lama wrote a piece on solidarity, with the descriptive title of “Global Family”. I found this article particularly interesting because he approaches solidarity from an unconventional angle. The very definition of solidarity deals with mutual agreement among persons, working together towards a common goal, and all around it is considered to be a group centered concept. However, he approaches solidarity from an individual level, encouraging each person to take time and form the material and spiritual aspects of themselves, and to find peace within themselves. He redefines solidarity to include authentic love and respect between persons and this goes beyond simple agreement.
Although at first this seems contradictory to the very nature of community, in all reality it is essential to it. True solidarity is found not only in mutual agreement but in mutual respect and love as well. This is impossible however, if a person does not first foster a love of self because recognizing your own worth is necessary before you can recognize the dignity in another. You cannot give to others what you do not have yourself. If you do not love yourself first and find peace within your own life, you cannot expect to bring peace into your own community.
Through our very nature we are communal beings, however, it is through relationships that we are able to learn what love is and find fulfillment. This is where the Dalai Llama’s definition of solidarity, unlike the generic one, brings into account human nature. He shows that true solidarity is found in authentic relationships and mutual respect between persons, but this is only achieved when individuals find peace on their own. The dependency of these two concepts on one another seems contradictory, but in reality they simply reflect the human condition: individual but dependent.
The reality of this dependency is a call to action. The personal formation of the spiritual life along with the material, finding peace within yourself, and cultivating love are imperative. However, the dependency we have on one another makes it necessary for us to do more: take action. There is a universal responsibility that comes with our natural inclination to relationships. Our humanity connects us, and we have a responsibility to one another and ourselves to pursue justice and sustainability in an active but peaceful way.
My family has always loved me and wanted what was best for me, my friends always pushed me to be the best version of myself, and my community was always strong and encouraging. It has been through my experiences and training as an intern in the WYA Europe office that I have learned to identify and name this as true solidarity. I was unaware, but my own relationships have upheld the true meaning of solidarity throughout my life, and I am extremely grateful.
As human beings, it is not only our privilege but also our obligation to protect one another and build societies based on the truth of human dignity. As individuals, we are called to action and to take steps towards this communal good. However, the most effective way to go about this is to love those within your immediate vicinity. Mother Teresa once said “If you want to change the world, go home, and love your family.”
Written by Mary Colleen Crabtree, intern at WYA Europe office in Brussels.