Together Is Hard

Bless the World, part 2

"None of us alone can save the world. Together -- that is another possibility waiting," as Rev. Rebecca Parker said. Getting together to build a more peaceful and just world is no easy matter. We lack consensus about what, in fact, justice requires when, where, and for whom. Nonviolent conflict resolution methods remain precarious and fragile in the face of temptations to resort to violence.

Consider, by way of illustration, the mottled history of Mother's Day. In 1870, Unitarian Julia Ward Howe wrote her “Appeal to womanhood throughout the world,” also known as her “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” She urged women across the world to join the cause of peacebuilding. Long before Mother’s Day was celebrated with brunches and flower bouquets, Mother’s Day was part of organizing pacificist mothers against war. Julia Ward Howe’s radical call to create peace still resonates today. She wrote:
“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm!’”
But getting together for peace is difficult for us. Howe’s “Mother’s Day for Peace” was observed in scattered localities for 25 years, but never caught on nationally. Mother’s Day did not become a national holiday until 1917, and when it did, it was no longer a day sharing Julia Ward Howe’s focus on peace. Rather, the new national Mother's Day resulted from Methodist Anna Jarvis’s campaign for a day to honor the important role of mothers.

Jarvis' Mothers Day was ripe for commercialization, which quickly happened. The holiday grows seemingly more commercialized every year. Moreover, Mothers Day as we have known it promotes a very homogenized and romanticized notion of motherhood. In 2011, a group called Strong Families re-conceived of Mothers Day as "Mamas Day." Strong Families explains:
“We know that mamahood is not one size fits all. But most popular images of mothers exclude mamas based on their sexual orientation, race, income, immigration status and more. And Mothers Day, one of the biggest commercial holidays in the United States, often reinforces traditional ideas of family and motherhood that there's only one way to be a family.” (mamasday.org)
Each year, Strong Families commissions artists to create original art reflecting the various ways our mamas and families look. At the mamasday.org website you can see their collection of e-cards. By adopting a “mamas” framework, Strong Families makes visible the diverse kinds of families that exist today. Mamas Day is a celebration of all mamas, everywhere -- which means it does something that commercialized, homogenized, romanticized Mother's Day does not: promote extending to every family the rights, recognition and resources it needs to thrive.

The ways we conceive of mother’s day are a chance to more powerfully bless the world with a more inclusive blessing. Our Unitarian Universalist Association is on board with Mamas Day. On May 8, the UUA.org home page declared:
“Today, Unitarian Universalists join Strong Families’ Mamas Day campaign to shift away from the commercialized version of Mother’s Day. Unitarian Universalists identify with Strong Families’ expanded frame of motherhood as we welcome and support all families in our congregations and spiritual communities. Strong Families takes this a step further by helping people advocate for laws that protect and help families thrive. This is a cause worthy of Julia Ward Howe’s radical vision of Mother’s Day.”
In the 146 years since Julia Ward Howe's "Mother's Day Proclamation," her vision has progressed very little. It's been essentially abandoned for most of that time, and the attempt to revive it remains small-scale. It's just one example of how getting together to build a more peaceful and just world is no easy matter.

Moreover, we are in the midst of trends that make “together” harder and harder. Demographic diversity is increasing all over the world from global migration. We can celebrate the richness that diversity brings, but without a shared sense of commonality, an understanding of the unum amidst our pluribus, there’s not much togetherness.

Second, growing inequalities of wealth erode the sense that we’re all in this together. Inequality creates division.

Third, the internet gives people a lot more choice of what to watch, what to read, but it also means we and our neighbors share less and less of a common story. And in general the ideology of individualism grows stronger. Alienation and isolation is a problem. Alienated young men and women join ISIS – or street gangs -- so they can have a sense of belonging. Political polarization grows as people don’t interact with those on the other side.

The narrative of continuing progress toward racial justice, which was always a bit rosier than the reality, has been exposed as false: in the last few years white America has been realizing there’s been no progress in race relations for at least a generation.

People feel powerless. The supposed liberations of individualism leave us uprooted. We need social identities in order to act effectively. Efficacy comes from knowing who you are, having a firm identity, and that comes from embeddedness in a rich social fabric. Other people, noted Ralph Waldo Emerson, “are lenses through which we read our own minds.” Without a strong network around us, we never know our own mind. Without rootedness in social soil, there’s no sense of who one is. Without a foundation neither fluid nor at risk, there’s no ground from which one can live daringly.

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

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