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Promoting Sensitivity

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 1, February-March 2000, p. 8

Dear LLLI,

The article in the April/May LEAVEN "When a Leader's Beliefs Become Mixing Causes," reminded me of an incident that happened several years ago.

I was at our meeting for Leader Applicants. As we introduced ourselves one woman said she was a "recovering Catholic." I am a Catholic and I love my church. It really hurt to have my religion referred to as if it were a disease. No one else mentioned religion. I didn't say anything at the time, but maybe I should have.

My co-Leaders have different religious beliefs from mine, but I wouldn't say anything negative about their beliefs even privately, let alone in a meeting. I think we have to be aware in all LLL situations of other people's religions, politics and child rearing beliefs.

Bonnie Stichart
Scappoose, OR, USA

Dear Bonnie,

Rosetta Bartels and I (Pat Kufeldt), Human Relations Enrichment Administrators for the US Western Division and the Eastern Division, have been asked to respond to your letter to LLLI because you have raised such a delicate issue. You are to be commended for your sensitivity to this situation. What may seem like an innocent remark on the part of one group participant can leave a lasting negative impression with others. The challenge is to deal with the situation without alienating the individual or the group.

Your first line of defense is a good offense and that means discussing sensitive situations with Leaders and Leader Applicants before they ever come up. Everyone needs to become aware of all the things that can be said or implied one-on-one or in a group that might be offensive to others. In addition, it is always appropriate to urge Leader Applicants and Leaders to take Human Relations Enrichment (HRE) in order to practice responding to difficult situations in a non-threatening manner.

The La Leche League Group itself can be alerted to the need to be sensitive to the choices of the attendees. Many Groups begin their meetings with a qualifying statement such as the ones found on pages 52-53 of the LEADERS HANDBOOK. This is important because not only does it head off some of the less helpful remarks that people can make, it also gives the Leader something to refer back to if she needs to. It makes an incident like this easier to respond to when you can begin by saying, "As I mentioned at the beginning of this meeting...." It is always suitable to use some sort of qualifying statement at the beginning of any La Leche League gathering, including Planning/ Evaluation and Leader Applicant meetings. This sets the tone for the meeting and sets an example for regular Group meetings.

What could you have said or done in this situation? A statement to the group might have been helpful, accompanied by a smile and accepting body language. "I heard a reference to religion a minute ago. I want to remind you that La Leche League is a nonsectarian organization. We are not affiliated with any church group." When the Leader makes an assertion of this kind it reassures attendees that LLL is a single focus organization that avoids involvement with other causes. This frees them to find the information and support they need to breastfeed without fear of pressure to believe and act in other ways.

Bonnie, thank you for being alert to this kind of situation. It is because of caring volunteers like yourself, that we continue to reach and work side by side with mothers from many different ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds.

Pat Kufeldt
Burke, Virginia, USA

Rosetta Bartels
Inman, Kansas, USA

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