Step 7: Working from a Solidarity Framework
Consider this story:
A group of North American students recently visited Nicaragua to help build a school for an impoverished rural community. They spent a week working side by side with the local men and women. The groups grew very close, and everyone was sad when it was time for the students to leave. A woman from the United States asked a Nicaraguan man what else she could do to help them. She was feeling guilty about going back to her privileged life. The man looked at her and told her: "Your wanting to help us is important and we appreciate it, but what we really need is your solidarity. We want you to go back to your country and continue to be in solidarity with us."
- What do you think the man meant by solidarity?
- How is solidarity different from help?
People with power and privilege, often with good intentions, have many times made things worse for less privileged communities by trying to "help" or "rescue" them. This tends to happen when privileged people impose their own agenda on communities and don't ask about or listen to community members' insights into what's needed. Help often implies a unilateral relationship, one coming from the top down.
The Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary defines solidarity as "unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards." Solidarity, in its most basic form, is being united with others based on common goals and values, but not necessarily through common experience or culture. Unlike help, in solidarity there is an implication of parity, at least in desired outcomes.
Working from a solidarity framework means working hard at listening, learning with humility, not imposing our agenda, not pretending that we have all the answers, and shifting the way we work and think.
But solidarity is more than that. The term derives from the Latin solidum (whole sum), from the neuter of solidus (solid). Solidarity means that we are all fundamentally connected, in spite of all our differences. Obviously, it is essential to recognize and understand the disparities, but once this is done, we have to reach to others from the knowledge that our relationships are based on a "solid" link; that we are all part of the whole sum. This concept can be interpreted from many different perspectives, from the scientific to the spiritual to the humanistic.
At its most profound level, working from a solidarity framework means understanding that our personal and communal healing, growth and well-being are inextricably connected with everyone else's healing, growth and well-being, no matter who the other people are and what separates them from us. In caring for others we care for ourselves as we cannot heal others if we don't heal ourselves.
What the Nicaraguan man wanted was for the visitors to remember his humanity, to recognize his place in the "whole sum." But he also wanted the woman to understand that this "helping" trip had been really for herself, for her own growth and development as a human being.The following questions might help deepening the discussion:
- How can your organization work in solidarity with people who have different cultural backgrounds or less access to power?
- What are the first steps?
- How do you make sure that you are not imposing your own agenda?
- How will your work affect the community?
- How would a prevention program created from a helping framework differ from a prevention program created from a solidarity framework?
Last modified 2004-10-19 01:35 PM