Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I am the problem.

“The world howls for social justice, but when it comes to social responsibility, you sometimes can't even hear crickets chirping.” ― Dean Koontz

According to our beloved, social justice is a noun, meaning: "justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society." Social responsibility on the other hand is "an ethical framework which suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large."

The trend in society of late is one which values social justice.  Everyone from teenagers to middle-aged celebrities is crying out for social justice, for a more equal society; less poverty, more compassion.  We shout from the rooftops the need for a more just society, for a more equal distribution of wealth, for more opportunities for the disadvantaged, for change to the systems that marginalize the majority of the people that live in this world.  We make noise about governments and companies needing to make changes in order to create a fairer world.  Nothing changes so we shout louder, thinking maybe they just don't hear us.  But they do.   Everyone hears us.  Articles, videos, Facebook posts and tweets about social justice issues must take about about half of the worlds bandwidth in this connected aged.  

Everyone wants social justice.  But what about our social responsibility?  Most people are willing to make a lot of noise about how things should change, but how many of us are really willing to give up the advantages we have to ensure that others aren't disadvantaged?

Western society values immediate gratification, convenience, and material accumulation above almost everything else.  Yes, we want social justice, but, for most of us, probably not enough to give up these things. I'm not writing this to be judgmental - I'm guilty of this too.  Standing in the grocery line up, feeling like treating ourselves to some chocolate, how many of us would leave the line to go find a fair trade chocolate bar, (generally placed in a tucked away aisle in the back of the store) when we could reach out and grab the Oh Henry right next to us in line?  Sure, it was probably produced by children who were trafficked across borders and forced to pick cocoa for no wage, but if I left, I'd lose my place in line, and I'd have to walk all the way back to the grocery store.  It could cost me an extra 15 minutes.

G.K. Chesterton, a brilliant British author and theologian, was once asked to weigh in on a discussion addressing the question "what's wrong with the world?"  His reply?

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours,
G.K. Chesterton 

No, G.K. Chesterton (as far as I know) didn't mean that he was single-handedly to blame for every problem this world faces.  But he knew how to take responsibility for his actions that perpetuated the problems.  The answer to this question today is the same as it was then. Yes, the systems in place in this world seem to disadvantage some while others reap the rewards. But the responsibility does not lay solely with those who set-up those systems. We are the ones creating and maintaining the systems by demanding the rewards they allow us to reap.  Maybe these systems would cease to exist if we didn't demand them.  Maybe sweatshops and child labour would become a thing of the past if we didn't demand that our clothing be less expensive.  Maybe slavery would end if we stopped purchasing electronics made with slave-mined tantalum.*  We have a social responsibility.  Our habits create the need for the systems that exploit others.  If we change our habits, maybe this need would disappear, and social justice would be attainable.

According to Matthew 25:31-46, we will all one day stand before God, and he will separate us into two groups.  One, he will invite into the kingdom of God, calling them blessed for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.  The other he will condemn, casting them away for refusing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned.  I wonder what he'll say to us who know that our actions cause suffering around the world, but refuse to change them.  Like the second group, we often passively accept the suffering around us and do nothing to alleviate it.  If passivity alone is enough to condemn us, we who actively encourage systems that cause suffering by reaping the benefits have cause to fear.

We cry out for social justice.  We shout at the top of our lungs that something needs to change.  "Why isn't there social justice?  What's the problem with this world?"  Well, I am the problem.  But I'd like to change that.

*I haven't done much research in this area, but last year Apple released a statement proclaiming that their tantalum mines were free of slave labour.  I hope there is more than one company that can boast this, but at this point Apple is all I know of.

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