Most folks don’t want to do wrong. Most folks don’t want to hate. Most folks don’t want to perpetuate harm. Etc. Society is built upon this general premise. Should this premise at its core not hold true, no amount of laws can prevent the demise of social structure. Yet, harm happens so often to so many. Apparently, many of the folks who in some way shape or form desire to not wrong others yet still do wrong others. How is it then that desire and actuality find themselves at such odds? What might be the disconnecting components between assertion and result?
There is so much to reflect upon here. However, let us at least consider how we might begin mitigating against unduly perpetuating the dilemma the Apostle Paul wrote about – doing the things we would not do rather than doing the things we would like to do. Let us consider how we might shine our light in the darkness without allowing the darkness to overcome it.
First, we need to gain some conceptual clarity.
While concerns might arise with particular manifestations of social justice, the idea of social justice in and of itself is good through and through. Consider the concept of social justice alongside a number of other concepts – Jesus, love, gospel, church, marriage, seminary, bible, etc. There is deep goodness in all of the previous terms. Yet, we can all think of ways in which these terms have been wielded that we find troubling…even alarming. The idea of social justice is similar…a good idea that at times has been used in less than salutary ways.
In thinking about the goodness of social justice, I find considering the opposite a helpful simplifying process – would we prefer social injustice? I also find it important to recognize that the word “social” that accompanies the phrase is essentially inconsequential in as that any form of justice or injustice is by definition always already social. The term “social” is simply utilized to make explicit a vital component that is desirable to have at the forefront of our consciousness – this is all about people.
So, it is not social justice that we find ourselves against at any time. Rather, we find ourselves at odds with a practice or practices that suggest that they are socially just and we feel are not just. Recognizing that it is application rather than concept with which we find ourselves concerned is key to increasing opportunity for moving forward toward further cooperative good.
While for you the idea of social justice might not be problematic (thanks be to God if this is the case!), sadly, many have backgrounds which have put them at a conceptual disadvantage for understanding the possibility of good residing in something even when it might not immediately be, in their opinion, showcasing such good. Such a stance can move people toward proverbially “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” – obviously not a good thing.
So, let us focus on being healthily social and healthily just. We’ll put it together and seek to be healthily socially just. We’ll seek to encourage social good rather than social harm.
Second, having found a bit of conceptual clarity, we need to consider how to act on our understanding.
What actions generally seem to do more harm than good? This question can of course at times be more complex than it might seem.
Let us for this moment suggest just two things for ongoing practice that can offer both personal and corporate benefit.
- Read broadly. Reading broadly is itself a socially just act and promotes further socially just acts. When you choose to read beyond your zone of familiarity or agreement, with a mind that seeks connection rather than seeking to underscore your disagreement, you will begin to find that you do not disagree on everything with anyone. It is not surprising that you disagree. In the midst of disagreeing, what can be surprising is finding that there are things upon which you agree. Celebrate common ground. Perhaps over time, more might be found? Rarely do people believe what they believe knowing that they are wrong. Rather, people adhere to their beliefs because they believe they are in the right. What are the logical parameters within which people are operating that allows them a level of consistent understanding to adhere to their beliefs? What are your parameters? Reading broadly in the ways suggested can help increase empathy and understanding. Developing empathy and understanding increases the possibility of acting justly toward others. Consider incorporating your reading broadly into a participative exercise of hosting a reading group where you can come together, discuss your readings, and all grow in compassionate understanding together.
- Do ongoing small acts of kindness for others, the social good, and Creation itself. Like with most things, “practice makes better.” You can train to do good or to do harm. The one you practice most becomes the one that you most likely will most regularly enact even when you are not consciously practicing. As Mother Teresa of the Missionaries of Charity notes, “small acts with great love” changes both personal lives and has a larger social impact. There is an important First Nations story that shares about there being a good and a bad wolf inside each of us. A child asks an elder which of the wolves win in the end. The elder replies to the child, “the one that you feed the most.”
Small acts of good often lead to greater acts of good! So, start small, but start.
Offer a kind word to everyone that you can, hold a door, pick up litter, recycle, carpool, bake something good and take it to a neighbor, volunteer at a local nonprofit that cares for those who are experiencing difficulties (be it homelessness, immigration, trafficking, food shortage, domestic abuse, addiction issues, etc.), write notes of encouragement to your neighbors and colleagues at work, invite someone to tea/coffee, pay for the person or some persons behind you in line (a food line, ticket line, etc.), leave an extra tip for a food server, write an op-ed for a local newspaper or an article for a magazine that promotes compassion and justice, write ….the options for goodness are essentially unlimited!
We seek to act well not only for the social good that it might do, but we do so also because it forms the moral fiber of our own Being. Though we often do not think of it thus, it is worthwhile to remember that “the moral fiber of our own Being” is an inextricable part of the social milieu.
Friends, in smaller and bigger ways, do good to yourselves and others whenever possible in all the ways that you are able. Doing so is being socially just. This is how to love God and love your neighbor.
“Beloved, let us love one another [in word and in deed]…[Lord,] forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Holy Spirit, by the blood of the Lamb, offered for all of us out of love for each and all of us, grace us with the gift of doing good rather than harm. May our thoughts and actions promote Thy Kingdom, promote Beloved Community, on earth as it is in heaven.