Unity: Trust me, I’m an Anglican
Reflections on what unity amongst left-leaning political groups might actually realistically look like. From the point of view of a member of a group currently doing some major reality checks on the feasibility of institutional unity.
It might seem odd writing about unity amongst political groups as a member of what often seems like a hugely disunited institution. But actually, I think the attempts to paint the Church of England as devoid of unity are missing the point on a number of levels. Here’s a few of them.
Unity is not the same as Uniformity – too often people on the left are looking for a kind of institutional structure with a tightly defined set of beliefs that everyone can fit in to. They’re probably doing this for a number of reasons, some of them well intentioned and some from a deep-seated sense of a lack of order and control.
Power structures don’t make for unity – they only really ever make for resentment. And Uniformity (see above). And organisational bloat, whereby everyone spends hours of their lives pursuing a better organisation instead of a better world.
Consolidation is the tactic of a retreat – you advance outwards and fall back in together for safety. Also, we no longer fight wars with big armies facing off at each other for a reason. Military language aside, hit squads are remarkably effective.
Unity of purpose doesn’t require unity of action – very often two groups of people will be doing two different things with the same overall aim. So what. If you can’t do multiple things at once, prepared to have the one big plan fail. Much better to get several initiatives underway, especially if they are more human-sized and resilient. Seeing other people’s work flourish should be an encouragement, not a threat.
Plan for others to succeed, never for them to fail – don’t make plans that rely on other people’s plans failing as a basic starting point for your success. Make plans where, if other people’s plans succeed, your outcomes are even better for it.
Make sure you scare your enemies, not your friends – its very easy to do things that look aggressive to those closest to you, whilst being totally ignored by those further away. I manage to do this all the time. But its really important to keep pointing forwards and outwards.
There is no ‘one big situation’ – there are enough situation for everyone to get one to handle, so not all being able to work together directly arm-in-arm isn’t actually a problem. In fact, its a ready-made solution to the wide array of situations you’ll meet.
Unity is in the eye of the beholder – yes, people will claim that unity is lacking if they don’t understand what is going on. So what. If that’s their only attack, they need a better one. Being positive about other people’s efforts, even if you find yourself saying ‘its not what I’d do, but…’ or ‘I don’t completely get it’ is so much easier than opposing stuff because you wouldn’t have done it or don’t get it. Its just a habit that takes a while to form.
Aim to change society, not each other – you’ll probably end up changing yourself and everyone around you quite well enough if you aim big. Aim to change your fellow travellers and you’ll get nowhere, and fast. That said, the nature of the changes you want to get are pretty crucial. Change people so they just blithely agree with you, and they’ll be useless.
I could have included such nuggets as ‘horses for courses’ and ‘with friends like these’ and so forth, but anyhow, scattergun as this piece might be, I hope its been good for getting people thinking. If you have thoughts on what unity looks like, stick them in the comments…