Esther and Paul: Working on “Solidarity”

Paul, Charles Dabuna and John Gartner in the Kiunga Diocesan Office
The word ‘Solidarity’ will be a little exhausted from overuse at the end of 2012. It is going to be indiscriminately appended to unsuspecting sentences in all manner of reports and articles in the coming year: generally extolling how we are practicing its values and emulating its qualities. But have we stopped to take stock of what the word really means? And, more importantly, how do we achieve it?

Solidarity is often described and defined as a relationship of commitment and interdependence between people. Interdependence is easily understood: are we not dependent on each other, in one way or another? But then there is commitment. Or, specifically, a ‘commitment’ to what…?

The commitment becomes evident when we trace the origins of the word. ‘Solidarity’ originally meant mutual responsibility, or shared responsibility. It is rooted in the notion of mutual sacrifice for the common good.

The relationship between interdependence and solidarity was also succinctly expressed by Pope John Paul II as: “Interdependence must be transformed into solidarity, grounded on the principle that the goods of creation are meant for all.”

Evidently, mutual sacrifice for the common good is the transforming agent; our willingness to make sacrifices will transform our dependence on each other into the virtue of solidarity. Now all we need to establish are: firstly, what constitutes mutual sacrifice? Secondly, what is the common good?

‘Mutual’ can simply mean, in this case, that two or more of us are ‘doing’ the same thing. Therefore, Mutual sacrifice just means that all are sacrificing equally or proportionately. The necessity for the sacrifice being mutual can be answered with a simple question: Would we be willing to make sacrifices if we did not feel that others are making them too?

Common good is harder to pin down. What is good for me might not be so for another. Perhaps that is why solidarity must be grounded on the principle that the goods of creation are meant for all. We have to all share equally in the fruits of creation. When there is no fair distribution of the goods of creation, is it not our flawed humanity that takes over and we surrender to greed and jealousy? Would we be willing to accept sacrifices if ‘fairness’ is in doubt?

Fairness must be an intrinsic part of the common good. Our sense of fairness ensures that justice, equality and our humanity prevails in the most dire of circumstances.

Our sense of fairness is the very foundation of solidarity. Without it, we would be unwilling to sacrifice. And without the Spirit of Sacrifice, there will be no solidarity.

How does the Diocesan Administration Office fit into all this…?

Primarily, the Administrative Office has to be prudent and efficient in the management of Diocesan resources, thus allowing for the continuation of programs and projects. Prudence encompasses the notion of good stewardship; that we are all called to be the caretakers of creation. Bringing this noble ideal down to a workable principle that can be applied to work in the diocese; we narrowed it to trying to inculcate a sense of personal responsibility and accountability for one’s work and actions.

Personal responsibility and accountability entails being fair and doing right by our sponsors and donors. It is a vastly different world outside Kiunga; a world we are presently ill-equipped to deal with. But it is the world our sponsors and donors work and live in; a world whose incessant demand for accountability must be respected. We have to ensure that the faith and trust they have placed in the mission remains unwavering.

We will try and accomplish this by implementing policies and procedures that will shine a light on current methods and practices; introducing systems that ensure operational and administrative efficiency, effectiveness and integrity of diocesan operations. An honest and transparent work system that ensures all staff are treated fairly and justly; and where rewards are awarded according to contribution. Fairness begets fairness, and honesty begets honesty are the simple dictums we use to describe this process. A process where developing capacity is a lived and ongoing experience for diocesan staff, gearing them to meet the new challenges that lie ahead.

This is the common good as we interpret it. We can only hope that a sense of fairness be inculcate within the work environment of the diocese. Only then will a spirit of sacrifice be born; only then can there be solidarity; only then can our meagre resources be stretched.

And this will buy the mission time: time to allow programs and projects to continue; time to allow changes to be instituted; and time for the changes to be accepted and take effect.

Hopefully, it is time enough…

Paul Tan

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The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. - Rumi