The body is not made up of one part, but of many. Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.” —Paul, 1 Corinthian 12
Chett Pritchett, past executive director of Methodist Federation for Social Action, spoke this afternoon on one of my favorite chapters from the Christian scriptures.
He spoke about how shame taught to us when we’re children morphs into shaming we impose on others as we grow, interpersonally and in large social groups like the Church.
However, if we’re one unit (that we are one is a primary and consistent claim in the teachings of Paul, Jesus, and John), this shaming is like an autoimmune attack. It’s self-destructive. And it undermines our belief that the Body is indivisible.
In organizing, we’ve started to speak about and shape multi-demographic coalitions instead of trying to keep organizing groups single-issue-simple. We press for multi-demographic coalitions to avoid the likelihood that people will be wounded by our interventions because of social oppressions and privileges that criss-cross our bodies regardless of who we are, the labels we use, or decisions we’ve made about who most needs serving.
Planning for coalitions reduces intra-group fragmentation because it allows people to work out of more than one of their dimensions at once. It also gives more people the opportunity to exercise their empathy: they get to practice perceiving how their experiences and backgrounds are both similar to and different from others’. As we rightly perceive one another, we gain a basis for connection.
While listening to Chett, I thought of coalitions as organ systems—all within the single body but specialized based on the unique functions of each interacting organ.
As you form coalitions with others, how can you ensure that the partnerships draw on the best contributions of the members involved and also allow those members to meet their goals?
I’ve spent a little time with others this week building out jigsaw puzzles. It’s patient work that requires us to know the puzzle image and also read the shapes of each puzzle piece. We have to know what we want to make and also fill out that vision by arranging the constituent jigsaw pieces in ways that fit for all of them.
That’s what makes coalitions work: they don’t focus on the Big Cause to the detriment of the constituent member. And when each piece is rightly related to each of the pieces around it, the bigger picture will always make sense.