Creating Situatedness

Bless the World, part 3

Without rooting in social context, we don't know who we are. There are new tools of individual freedom today, but they cannot be utilized without social interconnection, solidarity, grounding. Marcia Pally’s new book Commonwealth and Covenant offers the phrase, “separability amid situatedness.” This is the capacity to be unique, to create, explore, innovate, experiment with new ways of thinking and living – while also being situated — embedded in loving families and enveloping communities.
“Though we are all unique individuals, we become our singular selves through our relations and responsibilities to the people and environments around us.” (Amazon review)
To put it in terms of the Unitarian Universalist principles, the first principle and the last principle mutually constitute each other. The first principle declares the inherent worth and dignity of every person (or being), and the last principle is about the interdependent web of all existence. But it is the interdependent web that creates our inherent worth and dignity – and because of our worth and dignity, we rely on one another in relations of interdependence. Separability amid situatedness. But
“overemphasis on 'separability' — individualism run amok — results in greed, adversarial and deceitful political discourse and chicanery, resource grabbing, broken relationships, and anomie.” (Amazon review)
Blessing, as I said previously (HERE), is about place. When a person, object, or event blesses you, when you bless someone or something, there’s a relationship. Blesser, blessee, and blessing situate each other, locate one another, and place us within a context of belonging and value. It is both cause and effect of healthy cultural infrastructure within which we can thrive.

Creating situatedness – the blessing of each other by each other – requires, as Marcia Pally recognizes and as our Unitarian Universalist covenantal faith tradition has long embodied, covenant rather than contract. When two isolated individuals make a deal, they express it as a contract. When we are situated within something, we have a covenant. A contract protects interests. A covenant protects relationships.
“A covenant exists between people who understand they are part of one another. It involves a vow to serve the relationship that is sealed by love: Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people. People in a contract provide one another services, but people in a covenant delight in offering gifts.” (David Brooks, NYTimes, HERE)
If the social fabric we need is to be rewoven, it will happen through covenant – “hundreds of millions of people making local covenants — widening their circles of attachment across income, social and racial divides.” And that will probably require a shared story about who we are as a people.

I’ve never been all that keen on the notion of patriotism. For starters, why don’t we say “matriotism”? For enders, patriotism has often seemed too closely tied to unhealthy nationalism. But when I heard New Jersey Senator Cory Booker contrast tolerance with what he called patriotism, I thought, “OK, that’s a definition of patriotism I can get behind.”

Tolerance, said Booker, means, “I’m going to stomach your right to be different, but if you disappear off the face of the earth I’m no worse off.” Patriotism, on the other hand, means
“love of country, which necessitates love of each other, that we have to be a nation that aspires for love, which recognizes that you have worth and dignity and I need you. You are part of my whole, part of the promise of this country.” (Booker interview with Bill Maher, quoted by David Brooks)
I’m still not sure why nation – as opposed to state or county on the one hand – as opposed to continent or planet on the other hand – need be the crucial category. But whatever the category, the emotion Booker described is what it means to be situated in a shared collective life. That love, that recognition of worth and dignity and our interdependence, locates and grounds us, makes it possible for each of us to be blesser, blessee, and blessing.

Without that, there is no “together” – and no other possibility waiting. Without that, good proposals that arise lack political will and remain unimplemented. Without that, Mother’s Day is a commercialized celebration of one narrow image of what mothering looks like.

Be a blessing to the world. I charge you – with all of whatever authority is mine because you have freely conferred it on me: Be a blessing to the world – as a mother is blessing to a child, and also as a child is blessing to their mother. Knowing that you can’t do that alone – knowing, as you do now – that blessing the world requires attending to relationship, nurturing the situatedness that makes separability meaningful, then may you realize that other possibility, waiting – that possibility whose name is “together.”

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This is part 3 of 3 of "Bless the World"
See also
Part 1: The Blessing You Receive and the Blessing You Do
Part 2: Together Is Hard

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