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Keeping our Purpose in the Center

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 6, December 2001-January 2002, pp. 128.
Lynne Coates
Eugene OR US

I once attended a Leader Workshop, where, as part of the introductions, Leaders were asked to pair up and briefly discuss various topics. One question was, “Who is the person you most admire?” The Leader I paired up with surprised me greatly by naming a prominent national politician—one whom I ardently detested. At first, I could hardly believe my ears. I was shocked! How would I ever be able to work with someone with such an opposite view?

When Leaders discuss “mixing causes,” it’s often with an understanding that we want to be clear about what La Leche League offers. We want our communities to trust LLL to be about helping mothers breastfeed. We want women to turn to us for breastfeeding information and support, regardless of their background, beliefs, or lifestyle.

Beyond giving an accurate picture of LLL and welcoming a wide diversity of mothers to LLL, there is another reason why we, as an organization, keep to a main focus: to create and maintain a unified, focused leadership, able to work together and build strength from our differences, rather than allowing our diversity to consume our energies.

A supportive, unified leadership isn’t always easy to achieve. When I was so shocked at the Leader workshop, I know I wasn’t experiencing a unique feeling. It’s common that a Leader may not feel good about what another Leader believes concerning other issues. A political liberal may be working with a staunch conservative. Co-Leaders may be of several different religious faiths—or no faith. Those who oppose abortion may be sharing LLL Group responsibilities with those who do not. How on earth can such a diverse group of women form a cohesive working group?

I see three points to help us work together. First, we need to concentrate on our common purpose and the mothering values we share. We know there is diversity in how we pursue the LLL mission, and in how our common values are applied in different Leaders’ families. We can be confident, however, that we agree about an important part of our lives—the purpose of LLL and our basic philosophy about mothering and breastfeeding.

Second, let’s recognize that LLL is not a total “way of life.” Our philosophy covers a fairly specific part of the human experience. Religious, political, cultural, and other beliefs and practices may diverge widely among those who share LLL philosophy. Sometimes this is hard to comprehend. After all, we each live with a personal philosophy of life that includes LLL philosophy; it may be difficult to imagine how someone who shares part of our life-philosophy can’t accept the (to us) obvious implications for the rest of her life.

Third, we respect the diversity among us by accepting each person’s individuality. We don’t want LLL to be made up of clones. Different perspectives and experiences contribute to a more vibrant Group, and a more vital LLL as a whole.

Should we avoid discussing other issues with our fellow Leaders? No, of course not. But let’s not assume that, just because someone is a Leader, she will see non-breastfeeding issues in a similar way. And let’s use our differences to spark creativity for our work together, rather than wasting valuable energy in trying to change another person to be more like us. We are a purpose-centered organization; that common core gives us strength to forge ahead together, to focus our collective vision on our common goal. We can draw on the diversity of our fellow Leaders, confident that our widely different views in other matters will contribute rather than interfere with our commitment to mothering through breastfeeding.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to discover a Leader with a radically different political view. Many years have gone by since that workshop. She and I continue to share our commitment to LLL and mutual pleasure in each other’s company at LLL events. When national elections occur, I know we vote for different candidates. When it comes to helping breastfeeding mothers, we are unified by being LLL Leaders, sharing an important part of our lives with thousands of other Leaders around the world.

For more information on mixing causes, see the following references:

1998 Leader’s Handbook, pages 5-6, 65, 80, 283-84, 297-300.

Leaven: October-November 1997 “How Leaders Can Avoid Mixing Causes,” page 30.

Leaven: April-May 1999 “When a Leader’s Beliefs Become Mixing Causes,” page 30.v

Lynne Coates is a Leader in Eugene, Oregon, USA where she lives with her husband and three children. She adapted this article from one she wrote in 1991 for Connections, the USWD Area Administrators newsletter. Lynne currently serves on the La Leche League International Board of Directors from the United States West Zone.

“Managing The Group” is edited by Deborah Wirtel. Send ideas or columns to Deb at 4246 Robert Koch Hospital Road, St. Louis, Missouri, 63129, USA or DebMomm at aol.com (email).

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