#334 | Peter (Pete) Fontneau | Add "in the Service of the Common Good..."

Submission 334
Peter (Pete) Fontneau
Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church (Burke, VA) 8115

What is your suggestion or idea?

C-2.2. Justice.

Add to second covenant sentence so that it reads: ‘We support the use of inclusive democratic processes to make decisions in the service of the common good …”

What is the reason for your amendment idea?

A reaction to the proposal was a reduction in the importance of “democracy” in Article II. The current political situation in the United States and the perceived advancement of autocracy makes this a more sensitive issue. The added phrase gives voice to a certain sense of polity and the goal of world community.

Have you discussed this idea with your congregation or other UUs?

Yes. After a Wonder Box Time for All Ages and a sermon on proposed changes to Article II, the congregation held two town halls (in person and online) for Article II change discussions. Suggestions were then referred to a working group which included all likely GA delegates. The working group refined the suggested wording.

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I like this suggestion.

If the “Common good” puts comfort over, inclusion…of the culturally different…this can be “code” for exclusion…and contrary to the proposed “values”. FYI only

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interesting interpretation, and I can see that being an issue—yet I think of the Hackensack Riverkeeper discussing “the Commons”, and how important river access, not just viewing, is for everyone, from kayakers to waders to fishers, and how industry has for too long seen the waterways as either commercial transportation of goods or a place to dump waste, while the government should be holding it in trust to be shared by all. . . .how do we get to a place where we see ourselves as connected, not the in group and the excluded ones? We desperately need that, yet it seems so elusive!

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I agree. We simply need to start taking a “we are all in this together” or “common humanity” approach. Dividing every one up into “oppressed” and “oppressor,” while it may seem just and progressive, actually has no end game, no way of ending divisions. Why? absolute “equity” is in truth an impossible goal. Literally impossible. Not just difficult. And as long as we do not have absolute equity, we will always have in and out groups.

If you think I am being extreme and no one cares about absolute equity (equal outcome), I can say that I had precisely this conversation with a professor in grad school (humanities) who insisted that her justice work would only end when there when everyone was totally equal in every way. When I pointed out to her that this was literally impossible (unless and until we were all dead) she called me a name, which I will not repeat here.

I believe that “the common good” and “we are all in this together” approach includes affirming and advancing the goal of equity, even though it is not completely attainable. This is true of all important goals we seek to attain–eradicating poverty, creating a sustainable environment not ravaged by climate change and pollution, etc.

Without treating “oppressor and oppressed” as cookie cutter labels, we can recognize that inequity exists more in certain ways related to the history of each world region (such that in the United States, past history caused intentional injustice, some effects of which still linger on–as in the neighborhoods still affected by a history of red-lining, for example). Acknowledging this injustice does not mean it is the only lens through which we see the world or the only way we define ourselves.

Acknowledging this is not intended to separate people into exclusive categories or ranks, but to target needed areas of action and help direct our efforts. In grad school years ago, a friend described resistance to affirmative action this way: “It’s like, if someone has been standing on my head, and then they stop standing on my head and they say, OK, now we’re even.”

Tools and methods we create to achieve goals, and approaches we take, can always be improved, but they still may be rather blunt instruments with some side effects besides fulfilling the intended goals. I believe one of these effects is the way inherent limitations of language and subjective viewpoints can affect our relationships as we absorb and respond to the methods and terminology associated with specific approaches to the problems.

I think we are letting ourselves get sucked into conflicts over so-called CRT and whether this unites or divides us, when we could probably mostly agree on at least two things: (1) The goals of fighting anti-racism and other still-existing forms of oppression (whatever we may call it) that make life more difficult for some are important to achieve and (2) better listening to one another can help.

I believe part of trying to achieve (2) is recognizing that people will talk about these issues in different ways, and we can listen to the content and try to collaborate on suggested solutions without all agreeing on the same language. We can sort of use our minds and hearts to listen “through” the language rather than react on this level first, as we are allowing ourselves to do now.

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So, you are saying that the “we are all in this together” approach is one lens that we need to use and needs to be balanced with other approaches. Well, I certainly agree.

However, it seems to me that in UU social justice circles (which seems to be a large part of UUism at the moment) there is very little shifting between a panoramic “common humanity” and a mid-distance “oppressor/oppressed” lens. Instead, we seem to be stuck with one lens. There is, for example, no mention of “common humanity” at all in the proposed revisions.

To be fair, common humanity isn’t explicitly mentioned in the current article II either, but it is strongly implied with terms “every person” foregrounded in the first principle and “world community” in the sixth.

I agree with what I remember you saying in your second to last paragraph (for some reason my browser (on iPad) does not let me go back a check what someone else actually wrote when I am writing a reply). That is why we need more “we’re all in it together language” — to motivate us to come together to work towards anti-racism, against climate change, etc.

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I think we can do both. I think “social justice language” is also pushing back against certain actions, approaches, and language, including the denial by some that marginalization is real, that people should organize together to oppose attacks on certain groups, saying that the REAL problem is people complaining, etc. Example: Suppose right at the moment my friend is explaining to me his affirmative action analogy, above, I interrupt him to say, well yes, racial injustice effects still exist, but let me tell you instead about this other problem. It’s not that my problem may not be real or worthy of attention, but that I was overriding his sharing of his problem.

Arguing about who is doing it more or who started it, in my view, is a meta meta level of futility.

One of the things I love about my favorite radio show, Hidden Brain, is how so many studies and incidents show the ways in which we can erroneously think our own positions and view points are free of problems that we can easily see in others, as well as how influenced we are subconsciously. This in my view goes a long way towards explaining the sort of interlocked, unbudging (except for continued battle) position we find ourselves in on these issues. If the sum result of all the conflicts is to keep us focused on the conflicts rather than the underlying problems, nobody wins.

Sure, I agree completely with what you say in your first paragraph. But you could also acknowledge that it also sometimes goes in the other direction as well … and it is OK to say that. For example, you are describing an issue that affects everyone and someone interrupts you with their racial justice take on it. It seems like the first kind of interrupting is strongly discouraged and the second kind of interrupting is actually encouraged. In other words, there isn’t actually a balance in perspectives/language. Moreover any calls for such “balance” would be described as racist.

But, yes, hidden brain is a wonderful program. And we all have unconscious biases. I have been shocked, really shocked, to discover some of my own.

I agree that if we never acknowledge that this can go “in the other direction,” it can amount–or can feel to us like it amounts, anyway–to a sort of “ranking” in shared spaces of discourse. And this is why some of the methods of redressing, such as identifying and calling on certain minorities to speak first, can feel clunky, crude, ideological, or whatever.

But to me, it comes back to the “stepping on the head” thing. Neither one of these lenses is the complete picture–neither completely surrounds and accurately encompasses the world of our interactions, our effects on one another.

Let’s say that you and I, at least, maybe agree on THREE things: (1) the goals of fighting oppression and injustice are important, (2) listening to one another better can help, and (3) for there to be shared community, there has to be some reciprocity of exchange.

Even if we add in that (1) urges us to focus on equity rather than equality (e.g., allowing/encouraging some to speak first), the reality is that there are many kinds of marginalization, they can conflict, and valid needs and self-interest can conflict. So while we are looking for better ways to acknowledge and try to address disparities, I don’t think it hurts to also acknowledge that this is complex and involves many factors.

If we are going to go one step further, we might say that expressing this complexity can be seen and can act as a delaying or impeding or erasing tactic. But it can also be seen and can act as an opportunity to keep thinking about and improving our ways of engaging these issues.

The Hidden Brain mode, I feel would call on us to acknowledge that each “side” (or really each personal, subjective viewpoint) feels that there is not a balance, and that the imbalance is not in our favor. I personally think it is true that in many UU spaces, we are trying to redress imbalances that cause marginalization with some approaches and tools that some can find excluding, and that in some cases, they may misfire. But I also think it is true that some of what we are trying to address remains invisible to some people.

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PS: One more thought (sorry, Peter, for going off on a tangent!): I also believe that once individuals sort of think through this whole process we talk about above, our perceptions can change.

Having certain groups of people speak first in a community context doesn’t bother me–even if “disabled” gets left out (speaking for myself, not other disabled people). It’s kind of like once someone told me that in parts of the country, there is (still!) etiquette about people with higher status claiming right of way on sidewalks, and that some would be expected to step out of the way for others. (I am not talking about “ladies first,” even though it used to drive me nuts when a European teacher I had was unable to go through a door ahead of me. I am talking about expectations of the OTHER person stepping aside.)

Since I learned this, I try to just generally step aside and make room for the other person when we’re passing on a sidewalk. I think this is actually a lot harder to do in a conversation (anyway, if you were raised in a family/context where outspokenness was encouraged), so a sort of artificial mode of creating a hierarchy of “turns” may be a crude tool, but it’s one I think works.