I’m not going to watch the breaking of the second seal in Washington, D.C., tomorrow.
Instead, I’m preparing to host two training sessions this weekend, and I’m thinking about what constitutes sound community. Among people who consider themselves progressive, those committed to the deep social transformation that actively creates space for typically marginalized people to breathe and be, what does community mean?
In the first chapter of Confronting Injustice, Umair Muhammad explores John Dewey’s definitions of community as a social arrangement beyond mere proximity, one that requires members to assertively support the common good and refrain from turning each other into instruments or means to an end.
Dewey notes that many aspects of our social arrangement cannot be described as societal: ‘Individuals use one another so as to get desired results, without reference to the emotional and intellectual disposition and consent of those used.’… The only way to ensure that individuals are not abused by the collective, but instead have their development and freedom expanded, is to have power be equally distributed among individuals.” —Umair Muhammad
Who gets to use others as characters in their narratives is one way power expresses in social relationships. The way people might be used as cautionary tales, often without their consent, highlights how the storyteller assumes power to deploy their representations of others, whether or not those representations are accurate: in a power-over relationship, if the representations serve the narrator’s purposes, that’s all that counts.
Consider this principle next time you hear a speaker share anecdotes about colleagues or adversaries and the next time you hear sermon illustrations. How does the speaker refer to other people? Do these others show up with their own voices, or are they characters on the speaker’s stage?