Doing the Right Thing: Praxis for Social Justice as Spiritual Practice
“We are here to abet creation and to witness it, to notice each other's beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.” --Annie Dillard
I first encountered the phrase “praxis for social justice” in the spring of 2007 when I began teaching in the BA Program in Liberal Studies at Antioch University Santa Barbara. At that time the Chair of the program was Professor Dick Morrow and when we met in his office in the Garden Street building which houses this very small college I was told that the mission of AUSB's BA Program was approached through an experiential blend of theory and practice they termed “praxis for social justice”. As the university’s catalog states:
“Praxis for social justice combines learning and doing for the purposes of encouraging critical consciousness, ethical reasoning, and socially responsible behavior. It is a cycle of action, reflection, and transfer, wherein cultural differences are understood and valued, where human dignity, the earth, and future generations are respected, and all are encouraged to participate in bringing about a more equitable and compassionate world.”
As a sociologist with a passion for social change, I was very pleased to be joining an educational institution committed to the goal of creating a just and equitable social world and also committed to integrating real-world and classroom experiences. Much of my prior academic work was explicitly concerned with power, inequality and domination, and I had long been active in various social movements., including labor, feminist, LGBT, ecological, and anti-imperialist social actions. Over the last four years I have come to see “praxis for social justice” as a dominant component of my life purpose, bringing together intellectual and teaching areas of interest. Specifically, I am an anti-oppression educator concerned with building multicultural alliances to advance an overall left agenda for justice for all people based on a critical analysis of capitalism, patriarchy and imperialism. Moreover, I am a community activist advocating for those with mental illness and our neighbors on the streets, often doing street outreach and case management. As a Unitarian humanist who is part of a congregation the celebrates a diversity of personal theologies, I affirm intellectual freedom as a religious right and, rather than focusing on creed and doctrines, put emphasis of social justice work as a spiritual practice. The notion of praxis for social justice bridges the separate aspects of my life and provides a central core value to my autobiography.
For most of my adult life I was not a very religious person. While I was raised in a Christian home 3 and went to church weekly throughout my childhood, at the age of 12 I had absorbed
2 This essay benefited from the comments of Rev. Jon Lemmond, 3 My grandfather, the Reverend Asa Wright Mellinger, was a Congregational minister in
enough of the scientific tradition to become a “skeptic” of anything that whiffed of superstition, hocus pocus and the supernatural. Skepticism is an attitude I take toward truth-claims concerning phenomenon which go against my understanding of the world or which I have not directly experienced or upon which I have not evaluated evidence. If someone proclaims a belief which seems unbelievable or outside my experience I act like I'm from the state Iowa 4 and say: “Show me (the evidence.)” I have not yet seen convincing evidence for UFOs, supernatural beings, Big Foot or magical unicorns. It is not that these phenomenon cannot exist, it is that I have not seen proofs to persuade me and therefore I suspend or reject such claims. Given such an attitude, I am an agnostic on many concerns. Agnosticism affirms the mystery and uncertainty that is immanent in the unfolding of Creation.
As an young adult I did graduate study in social science, and was particularly interested in the critical social theory, and the social psychology of situated actions . Now, in my 50s, I find myself an active member of a vibrant church community 5 and wanting to write about my spirituality. My attempt here to “build my own theology” is occurring in the context of a class at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara with the Rev. Aaron McEmrys. I will be drawing upon numerous sources, biographical threads and academic interests to weave together an approach to spirituality centered in “praxis for social justice”. “Praxis” is a ancient Greek word for action, as in the word “practice”. 6 For me spirituality is not so much about my beliefs about God or the nature of salvation, but rather about my actions in this world.
My engagement with critical social theory has been one of the core intellectual influences on my life and on my approach to spirituality, While Marx stated that religion is “the sigh of the oppressed creature”, “the heart of a heartless world” and “the soul of soulless conditions”, the next line in that oft-quote phrase states “It is the opium of the people. 7” The image of religion as an oppressive tool imposed by the ruling classes to keep the working classes down is cynical in its totalizing indictment and denies the truly religious experiences of ordinary people and the essential positive social uses satisfied by religion and religious institutions. During Marx's day, the Holy Roman Church was still being ruled by rich, influential families like the Medici, who allowed rich but evil people to believe that they were guaranteed a “seat in heaven”, and told the poor not to worry about struggling to change real-world circumstances because their afterlives were, after all, what is truly important In that milieu, it was reasonable to look upon the incantations, creeds and rituals recited by robbed men in ancient, usually unknown languages as working like a brain-numbing drug that makes the pains of alienation and injustice bearable for the exploited proletariats. But this need not be the case. I see some forms of spirituality as capable of relieving alienation and promoting social justice (as I argue below).
Chicopee,Mass. for 40 years, who went to Harvard Divinity School (Andover) . He spoke seven languages (English, German, French, Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Aramaic and Syriac ), took joy in tending to his flock and produced large Christmas pageants each year. He was the largest influence on my life. 4 Iowa—the “show me” state.
5 I have been a member of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara since 2005.
6 As a graduate student at UC-Santa Barbara I initially learned the term “praxis” in seminars with Professor Richard Appelbaum on Karl Marx and Critical Theory. 7 Karl Marx, 1844,Contribution ti the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right
I am not a Marxist due to powerful libertarian and autonomous impulses that run through my thinking. Marx's dream of an social world without alienation in which each human is able to reach their highest potentialities and in which no one is unfairly taken advantage is powerful. His vision of socialism is scientific, rational and dialectically-informed. Yet, his vision of what are acceptable means to achieve those ends involve deeply authoritarian and non-democratic practices, such as post revolutionary state control by a single group of people. When I learned about how Karl Marx treated Mikhail Bakunin at the First International in 1872 I really became convinced of Marx's own deeply authoritarian practices. I see my political thinking as drawing upon several strands of contemporary anarchism, including post-anarchism, feminist anarchism, and ecological anarchism. Yet, several of the key concepts in my spiritual philosophy do come from Karl Marx and the critical theoretical tradition he launched, including praxis, social justice, consciousness, ideological critique, a vision of a just society, and alienation 8.
My goal in this essay is to explore the nature of “praxis for social justice” and to articulate those types of social actions as a form of spiritual practice. I begin by defining “social justice” and quickly overview its broad concerns. I briefly describe some aspects of our current situation, “late modernity” (Giddens), then explore my contemporary, DE-mythologized sense of “the sacred” and discuss the potential emancipatory spirituality which could serve to alleviate alienation. I next turn to the notion of praxis and locate this form of situated activity in contemporary social theoretical approaches to social action. I briefly explore the Old Testament prophets who brought to life the notion of “praxis for social justice” in Western Civilization and the importance of envisioning a “just world”. I then discuss the importance of community and present a model of praxis for social justice as a spiritual practice.
WHAT IS SOCIAL JUSTICE?
As a critical sociologist I have long been interested in social inquiry into the sources 9 and manifestations of social injustice, including economic inequality, interpersonal oppression 10
8 I wonder how many people are deeply indebted to Marx for core aspects of their spirituality. Marx, the Godless communist, is often presented as the antithesis of all that is cherished in the United States of America. 9 What are the sources of injustice? There are many and they operate on different levels. On the institutional level, “tradition” is a powerful source of racism, sexism and other oppressions linked to the “politics of recognition”. Interpersonally, people's own insecurities about “getting enough” manifest in them wanting to give others less. Open hostility and hatred usually derive from childhood trauma experiences. People hurt others because they've been hurt themselves. And basic greed obviously is a cause of much injustice. 10 In this essay I do not focus on interpersonal injustices. But “the interaction order” —that is, the realm of face-to-face encounters and communicative action is obviously an arena of oppression. Much hierarchy and hated occur in the realm of everyday rife and public encounters. Our interpersonal relations with others through talk, facial expression and bodily movement convey the dignity and respect we accord to others. Whether in public or private, with one intimate other or before throngs of others, our interactional comportment displays
and unequal access to schooling, healthcare, jobs and housing. I want to understand the local and global processes that both hinder and engender justice, and hope to grasp the various forms people employ to organize and mobilize for justice. I ongoingly bear witness to social inequality, suffering, oppression and injustice. I am developing a prophetic voice to criticize injustice and challenge regimes of domination.
Social justice can be defined as the state in which dignity and respect for all is accompanied by equal access to basic human needs. That definition incorporates a “redistributive claim”, which seeks a more just distribution of resources and goods, and a claim in the “politics of recognition” in which so -called minority groups are accorded equal respect. Thus, social justice in contemporary parlance includes both economic fairness and interpersonal fairness (treating all others with dignity and respect). Other definitions include recognizing the importance on human rights and creating a sense of solidarity in our society.
SOCIAL JUSTICE WORK VS. OTHER TYPES OF SOCIAL CHANGE
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chose the side of the oppressor.” --Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Who in our society is not treated with dignity and respect? And who is denied equal access to basic human needs? Well, in north America we live in a very stratified society in which most wealth is in the hands of a very small and powerful elite. Some 90% of our nation's wealth is owned by less than 10% of the population and the working poor struggle to subsist at the margins. In the United States, many of these people lack medical insurance and affordable housing. Even food is a problem for many. Moreover, there is a gendered and racial aspect to these issues which greatly increases the problems for women and people of color 11. As a homeless outreach worker, I daily encounter mentally ill people sleeping in doorways and picking food out of garbage cans. All the while a right-wing assault is working to take away what little safety net still exists. Here is Santa Barbara we almost lost our soup kitchen in 2010!
Reflecting on community efforts to ameliorate the lives of the poor, marginalized, and exploited people reveals three broad types of social change activism:
(1) Charity refers to giving poor people what they need for free. Often what they get is of an inferior quality. The food served at rescue missions is not what you would eat at home, and the ponchos handed out at warming centers last about a day. But charity
degrees of deference and our demeanor.
11 While class, race and gender are central forms of oppression, in our society one could add to that list ageism, heterosexism, ableism, adultism, and discrimination based upon appearance. But this does not exhaust the human capacity for hatred and discrimination. As noted, my ministry to our neighbors of the streets with mental health challenges and substance abuse issues is a spiritual reaction to the horrible treatment afforded these people, who are often tossed aside and left to die.
does serve a vital purpose as the hungry and cold have immediate needs. We sometimes make unreasonable demands upon people to get these simple life requirements, such as excessive paperwork and interviews to get a small bag of groceries at a local religious institution. Those who believe that charity is the answer to the problems of the poor often have a tendency to regard those needing assistance as intrinsically inferior. Moreover, the approach of charity presupposes that there will always be those of have and those who do not. The worst thing about charity is that it does nothing to address the root causes of the the situation nor empower those in need. The paternalism of the givers of charity often smacks of self-righteous liberal pride. I do not mean to totally dismiss the importance of charity nor turn the generosity of those who give into maliciousness, but feel strongly that it is not the best way to address the issues of the poor.
(2) Those who believe that development is the answer to the problems of the poor seem to regard progress as a natural process which shines the light of Western Civilization onto the dark corners of backward counties. By encouraging subsistence farmers to take on practices of the corporate agriculture, including Round-Up Ready seeds, we assume that they want and need to be more like us in how they approach life situations, and that when they achieve that goal all will be well. Frances Moore Lappe demonstrates in Twelve Myths of World Hunger how agricultural assistance by rich counties to poor counties actually exasperates the situation leading to later dependence. Development approaches typically are based on “liberal”views of poverty that place the problem with the poor themselves. Moreover, developmental approaches seek to improve the situation of the poor within existing social relationships and the basic structuring of society. In a sense it “blames the victims” of poverty for their own situation by assuming that their indigenous practices are inferior.
(3) Those who work for social justice tend to see the world as deeply flawed. The suffering of the poor is seen as the result of structural violence 12 that is human-made. To work for social justice is to work with poor people or other target groups as they struggle to change their situations. Overall, it is concerned with empowering people to take on the dominant structures and powers that be to eliminate the underlying root causes of poverty.
CRITICAL THEORY AND REFLEXIVE MODERNITY
I want to argue that we living in “modernity” are more aware then ever before that our actions have consequences in shaping the world. In elaborating praxis for social justice as a spiritual practice I have drawn upon concepts and debates found in Critical Social Theory, an intellectual discipline spanning philosophy and social science . Emerging first in the much heralded Frankfurt School of the 1930s 13, Critical Theory has the practical intent to criticize
12Parker Palmer in A Hidden Wholeness defines violence as “any way we have of violating the identity and integrity of another person (2003; p. 189). 13Horkheimer in his 1931 inaugural address to the Institute for Social Research broadly defined critical theory as a human activity that takes society as its object, and attempts to
and subvert domination in all its forms. While Critical Theory has done much to reveal how religions legitimate asymmetrical power relations, the approach outlined here draws upon Critical Theory to enhance awareness of the roots of domination and to help compel changes in consciousness and action.
There is a sense that "modernity" simply refers to our contemporary epoch–the modern age we live in, in contrast to ancient history or the Middle Ages. Upon closer consideration, it is clear that we need to define this concept more closely, and differentiate different types of "modern societies", and perhaps different phases or types of modernity. Paris in 1848 is very different from it is today. Dubai today from Lagos (Nigeria) today. In some sense they are all "modern cities".
In the 19th century many great social theorists saw major transformations occurring at the societal level. In many Western societies, industrial capitalism and urbanization were transforming the nature of daily life for much of the population. Clearly, the London Karl Marx lived in in the 1880s was vastly different from the London of John Locke some two hundred years earlierly.
All the major sociological theorists of the 19th century left their mark on our understanding of modernity. For Marx, the emergence of capitalism was the defining feature of the new age. For Emile Durkheim, it was changes in the nature of our social bonds (the shift from "mechanical solidarity" to "organic solidarity’) that was essential. Max Weber saw increasing rationalization as key to understanding modern life.
The foremost sociologist of our time, Anthony Giddens states:
At its simplest, modernity is a shorthand term for modern society or industrial civilization. Portrayed in more detail, it is associated with (1) a certain set of attitudes towards the world, the idea of the world as open to transformation by human intervention; (2) a complex of economic institutions, especially industrial production and a market economy; (3) a certain range of political institutions, including the nation-state and mass democracy. Largely as a result of these characteristics, modernity is vastly more dynamic than any previous type of social order. It is a society—more technically, a complex of institutions—which unlike any preceding culture lives in the future rather than the past.
( Giddens 1998, 94).
The idea of the world as open to transformation by human intervention is crucial to the notion of praxis for social justice. We are now more aware than ever before that we can, and perhaps must, construct a different way of social life for the future survival of our species and our planet. That we are conscious of other imaginal worlds, and conscious that our actions will create a different world, are particularly "modern" phenomenon. We know that the world
transcend the tensions between individual spontaneity and the work-process relationships upon which society is based. An emancipatory guide for human action and critique of ideology, critical theory seeks to understand why people buy into social systems that keep them down and legitimate the existing power structures.
will change and that those changes will be the result of changes in our actions. In earlier times in human history, people thought of the world as just being "the way it is", and did not regard it as connected in any significant way to their personal behavior. The world was seen to exist "out there", constraining personal action, but not really created by it.
With every action, we make the world. With every action, we potentially make the world better or worse. Our ordinary activities count. For it is through these everyday behaviors that the social world is ongoing constituted as an orderly event. Here I want to brief reflect upon our awareness of our ability to make the world, and to make the world differently through our mundane actions. This brings us to the concepts of "reflexivity", "the reflexive attitude" and "reflexive modernization".
Traditional societies do not change much and are reproduced by people who are largely unaware of the consequences of their actions. Political elites often use their power to block modes of understanding the conditions of social reproduction and the potential for transformation. One of the main features of modernity is an “increasing purposefulness in endeavors to control the conditions of social reproduction”. (Giddens 1987, p.223). We increasingly monitor the social reproduction of social life,
People can reproduce the structure of society by doing what they previously have done. But there is no guarantee that they will. People are always able to act differently then they do. The possibility for change is inherent in every act of social reproduction.
There are several meanings of the term "reflexivity". One understanding of reflexivity is as a universal human condition involving monitoring one’s own actions, enabling the maintenance and transformation of social relations. As Giddens states:
"reflexivity is a defining characteristic of all human action. All human beings routinely ‘keep in touch’ with the grounds of what they do as an integral element of doing it" (Giddens 1990: 36).
This form of reflexivity is also referred to as "reflexive monitoring." Again, quoting Giddens:
"actors not only monitor continuously the flow of their activities and expect others to do the same for their own; they also routinely monitor aspects, social and physical, of the contexts in which they move" (Giddens 1984: 5)
Thus, at the individual level reflexivity involves self-reference–a subjective process of self-consciousness.
A second understanding of reflexivity is at the institutional level and is a specifically modern phenomenon. Giddens states:
"The reflexivity of modern social life consists in the fact that social practices are constantly examined and reformed in the light of incoming information about those very practices, thus constitutively altering their character" (The Consequences of Modernity 1990: 38).
Society, in this version, is both the subject and object of rational intervention. We are aware that our historically specific social practices have the ability to alter the course of history (even if only slightly). We alter our behavior in light of what we ongoingly learn about the world, and we are aware that through our changed behavior we, in turn, change the world. For example, learning about the dismal situation of our planet’s ecology we hopefully are adopting more ecological lifestyles, knowing that our actions are necessary to save our planet.
It is as if we have become much more aware of Marx’s dictum: "Men make history…". This is "reflexive modernity" and "reflexive modernization"–society is becoming more self-aware, reflective and hence reflexive.
On his " Meet the Director" page at the London School of Economics website Giddens discusses "reflexive modernization" as coming to terms the the "limits and contradictions" of the modern order, and how that order becomes "the object of its own forces … a self-confrontation created by the dynamics of modernization" in which the "constantly renewing flow of information constituting society simultaneously revises that society’s modernity".
We are no longer tied to the past as we were in pre-modern societies, in which actions were legitimated by their relation to tradition, and were defended because that was the way "things have always been done". No longer justifying our actions by traditions frees us to create new and different realities, new and different social worlds! The idea that the world is able to be changed by our actions and interventions is a defining feature of modernity.
REFLEXIVE ATTITUDE 14
For example, I can have a "reflexive attitude" about my gender role performance–an awareness that I can assume either masculine privilege at times and go along with my societally-given masculine norms of behavior, or I can choose to "undo" gender, to withdraw from the masculine privileges that are offered to me (or that I take), to be a "gender traitor", a feminist man, a gender-bending non-conformist. I am aware that patriarchy, in part, exists through my actions and can be changed by my actions.
This is a contrast with the "natural attitude" in which it is taken-for-granted that the world is constituted as a naturally-given external reality. With the natural attitude, patriarchy is a "thing" that is external and constraining to my actions, a so -called Durkheimian "social fact". With the reflexive attitude, patriarchy becomes a "practical accomplishment", locally tied to my situated conduct. I become aware that I "do gender" and "do patriarchy" through my everyday conduct 15.
14.Much of this section first appeared in my blog “Doing Modernity” 15Here I invoke Harold Garfinkel's famous study of the transgendered “Agnes” (1967) and Candace West and Don Zimmerman's notion “Doing Gender”.
Here I want to consider how we can consciously change the world through reflexive praxis, a mode of acting on the world filled with keen awareness of our ability to alter reality. This will be contrasted with our unreflexive behavior–our habitual modes of "going along" with the status quo. I will relate these two modes of acting on the world to issues of unlearning oppression and the work of being an ally 16.
Many of the people I know are good, honest, working-class men in "recovery" from alcoholism and addiction who are evangelical Christians whose language is often peppered with colorful phrases drawn from street culture. "Peppered with colorful phrases drawn from street culture" is a polite and euphemistic gloss for what I often times feel is oppressive and discriminatory language in which women, people of color, lesbians and gays, and others who are ‘different’ are openly denigrated and castigated. For many of these men, women are ‘bitches’, gays are ‘fags’ and Mexican immigrants are ‘beaners’. Imagine being an anti-oppression educator living in this social world! I often feel very alienated.
Becoming an "ally" in struggles against injustice involves understanding our own roles in systems of oppression. I have learned that everyday oppression sometimes occurs through inaction rather than through overt actions. The passivity of well-meaning people, fueled by ignorance and indifference, is critical to the operation of dominator culture. We often live in denial, refusing to acknowledge the consequences of our behavior.
In other words, there are consequences to our simply "going along" with oppressive jokes, comments and words. Because oppressions exist as an interconnected web, reinforcing one another, our inactions are essential to the system’s perpetuation. In "going along" with oppressive actions we actually help to maintain the status quo. Going along with oppressive actions we play a part, an essential part actually, in reproducing those hierarchical systems. This is un-reflexive behavior–routine actions operating within ideologies which serve to maintain and reproduce the (hierarchical) status quo.
As I stated above, in contemporary societies we are now (supposedly) much more aware about how our actions and interventions have the potential to change the world. Of course, because I am not fully aware of all of the taken-for-granted aspects of my own behavior which end up contributing to our hierarchical society, I must be careful in singling out those behaviors of others that are oppressive. Nothing is worse than hypocritical goody-two-shoes so keen on seeing others missteps that they are blind to their own thoughtless stumbings.
“To engage in reflexive praxis is to take action in the social world based upon awareness and insight into our role in perpetuating or not perpetuating societies structured in dominance.” 17 Employing a reflexive attitude, we hopefully do not simply "go along" with the status quo. We do not do the "routine" and "polite" and the "taken-for-granted" accepted behavior, but instead, choose to use our actions as interventions in the world, interventions with the
16Erica Sherover-Marcuse first developed the thinking behind “unlearning oppression”. 17From my blog “Doing Modernity” 2009.
potential of making the world a better place. Clearly, reflexive praxis is an essential aspect of being a change agent.
I have called my approach to sociology “Critical Interactionism” and have briefly defined it as the "microsociology of domination" and have urged through my teaching and writing for all to be participant observers to how societies structured in dominance are ongoingly reproduced all around us through our actions / inactions and the actions / inactions of others. We need to more fully examine the everyday local practices through which power and hierarchy are constituted and resisted 18.
Our norms of "politeness" and "civility" can act as powerful deterrences to our reflexive praxis concerning oppressive behavior. To be polite can be to not "stir things up", not draw attention to degrading and thoughtless comments, archaic and offensive terms, and ugly and disgusting jokes. "Nice" people supposedly pretend not to hear these "indiscretions", and allow others to "save face" by ignoring these actions. My own privileges as a white man can also act as deterrence to my reflexive praxis concerning oppressive behavior.
Back to my situation. My acquaintances were talking loudly in the coffee shop while one of the baristas was wiping the counter clean. One of them makes a comment to her about his just coming back to the counter to admire her beauty. She flirtatiously goes along with his comment. The other guy makes a joke saying something like "oh I thought you were coming here to look at me". The first guy responds, "I would be really weird if I was looking at you, wouldn’t I".
I responded: "You must think I’m weird, Joe!" As a gay man I found his comment offensive. He seemed to be saying that any man who looked at another man as attractive is "weird" and abnormal. Impulsively, I choose to say something to draw attention to the presuppositions underlying his remark. In so doing, I might have been a little "rude" in that I did not allow him to "save face". In fact, by publicly drawing attention to his comment I might have embarrassed him, and perhaps that was my goal.
To intervene in routine actions to draw attention to oppression is reflexive praxis. We choose to take a stand.
To be an ally is to stand up for other people’s oppression. This is even harder. Twenty minutes later when the grumpy sea captain across from me at the counter made a comment about the lesbian couple ordering coffee being "dikes", I choose to say nothing. I was involved in checking my email, and don’t really consider him as worth me spending time debating this topic, so I just silently "went along" with his comment. At that moment I failed as an ally, and know that my passive inaction contributed to the maintenance of a society structured in dominance. Perhaps we could call this reflexive passivity because I am aware of my inaction’s contribution to the status quo. I was probably afraid that if I stood up for these women as lesbians, he would have thought I was gay. I know that he thinks that I am straight and I am often able to assume privileges as a "straight-looking" gay man.
18 For an excellent introduction to the link between sociology and social justice see Joe Faegin (2001) “Social Justice and Sociology: Agendas for the Twenty-First Century”. American Sociological Review 66(1):1-20.
History is made by the situated conduct of partially knowing subjects. In traditional society people were largely unaware of the consequences of their actions and thus unconsciously reproduced the social system of which they were part. With the advent of modernity there is significant increases in knowledge about the conditions and consequences of our everyday actions and people are increasingly aware of how their actions reproduce or alter the social world. This “reflexivity” necessitates that we momentarily pause to reflect upon the ethics of actions and consider creative interventions which would change the world.
This contemplative moments in which we re-evaluate our habitual modes of being in the world and consider the well-being of humanity, opening our hearts and minds to spiritual potentiality. We ignore our need for “ontological security” which is typically satisfied thorough trusted habit. We break free from past patterns of complicity and dare to do the right thing. Praxis is autonomous and creative interventions which refuse to reproduce a society structures in dominance, injustice and inequality. By altering our conduct, we become change agents and spiritual warriors. My goal in this essay has been to explore the spiritual potential found in the moments in which we stop, reflect upon how our habitual mode of being in the world reproduces a status quo in which domination and inequality abound and act differently We see our complicity with injustice. By invoking our vision of a just world and evaluating the ethical consequences of our situated conduct, we do the right thing. Before acting we consider how others will view us as we change our behavior.
Praxis can be anxiety-ridden. Habits are predictable routines which generate feelings of trust in others. The established modes of accustomed daily life continually ”re groove” attitudes and cognitive outlooks which hold down potential sources of anxiety. The familiar is so reassuring.
When we stop and contemplate the ethics of our actions and change direction, we experience an “epiphany” of a “sacred moment”. Praxis is the ultimate experience because it starts with a personal change and leads to global transformation. Knowing that we create the world is radical change in consciousness because we consider the good of the commons.
A VISION OF THE SACRED 19
19 Social theorists have observed key social uses that religion and spirituality plays in community life, including:
• socialization of the young into an ethical system;
• re-affirmation of our cherished values, norms and ways of acting strengthening of social bonds of collectivity
• elaboration of meaning-making systems, such as myth, folklore and other stories;
• legitimate political elites;
• establish moral boundaries between profane and sacred, good and evil, clean and dirty; Religion helps solve basic human needs for belonging and self-actualization. Religion gives us a sense of enchantment. These above social uses are functions that religion serves collectively for the larger group? What about on the individual level? Religion provides ways to cope with personal crisis and trauma and ways to make sense of unfairness.
“Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die. We are not the animal with tools or the animal with advanced language. We are the religious animal. Because we know that we are going to die, we question what life means. Death also throws meaning itself into question” --Forrest Church
As noted above, I am a Unitarian humanist and I acknowledge that my “vision of the sacred” is probably quite different from most people. I believe that by rediscovering the elementary emotions that accompany the experiences of the sacred, particularly wonder, awe, gratitude, compassion and hope, we can find ourselves in the presence of the God of the mystics—the ultimate reality that energies all beings. I reject both institutional religions and nihilistic secularism. I am unable to believe in omnipotent supernatural beings and hocus pocus miracles. Still I am drawn to a vision of the sacred grounded in our individual spiritual quests, experiences of community and struggles for social justice.
My spirituality is a source of hope as I struggle to bring reverence and compassion to the center of my life. It maintains its vitality when it stands as a witness to the sacredness of life. An instinct for the sacred is triggered by our awareness of the limitless creativity of the unfolding of Creation, the fragility of the human condition and our dependence on a source of life beyond our control. The sacred is our experience of transcendent moments when we overflow with love. Recent brain research confirms the truth known to the mystics for centuries.
I insist that recovering an experience of the sacred is essential to the future of our planet. In seeking spiritual renewal, I retreat from the distractions of everyday life and engage in self-exploration. Metaphorically, I have gone to the desert, wrestled with my demons and have come to know my angels. A quiet moment is necessary to break free from the cacophony of culture.
I do not know the ultimate whys and wherefores of our existence. The cloud of unknowing envelops the mystery of being. Some knowledge remains beyond my reach. I affirm my ignorance, remain a skeptic and continue to challenge conventional authority. Paradox and contradiction allow me to delight in play and speculation. The gossamer words of sacred myths are a source of freedom and imprisonment. The degraded language of God-talk can cloak the ultimate mystery. A new poetry of faith can help discover fresh expressions of hope and fear.
To craft a religious life, I reclaim elemental emotions, learn to speak about the sacred in poetic ways and practice justice. I focus on transcendent moments, epiphanies and sacred visions. My spirituality compels me to tread reverently on the Earth, creating an autobiography in which we tell stories of our epiphanies.
But what is the sacred? The sacred seems to be ineffable—we cannot find the appropriate words to express in language our understanding of that which is in all but greater than all. To define sacred as being worthy of worship or veneration avoids stating which properties of the sacred make it sacred. To define “the divine” as having the nature of a deity does nothing to
describe what makes it holy. I continually return to our human response to the wondrous mystery of the unfolding of Creation as feelings of awe and humility and know that these feelings are at the root of spirituality and thus the sacred.
PRAXIS AND PRAXIS SPIRITUALITY
The contemplative moments in which we re-evaluate our habitual modes of being in the world and choose NOT to reproduce the status quo but to instead engage in creative interventions which change the world, are imbued with sacredness. This is heart of praxis spirituality.
Praxis spirituality emphasizes: (1) we gotta live our ideals; (2) we are responsible for the nature of this world and its problems; (3) our mundane actions in everyday life count; (4) our actions have consequences, some of which are unintended; (5) we must develop reflexivity to grasp how our actions produce and reproduce injustices, oppression and the ills of our world
The reader will obviously notice that my personal theology makes no reference to God, salvation or the origins of the Universe. While traditional theologies focus on beliefs, my approach to spirituality focuses on real-world actions. Praxis is often described as putting one's thought into action, living your ideals or “walking the talk”. I reject collections of supposed beliefs as the defining feature of personal theologies because of the total hypocrisy of our modern world. Rather than focusing on what people say they believe I think it is better to look at what they do.
CASTORIADIS ON PRAXIS
There has been a lot of philosophical work done on the concept of praxis. Drawing upon the critical theoretical tradition stemming from the writings of Karl Marx, I have been influenced by the writings on praxis by Hannah Arendt, Paolo Friere, and Cornelius Castoriadis, among others. Marx in his eleventh “Thesis on Feuerbach” famously stated that “philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it.”
Above, I have described how some modern social theorists see our world as constituted through our everyday actions and that even the most structural aspects of our world boil down to our situated action. Cornelius Castoriadis, the late French-Greek social theorist has elaborated on the concepts of autonomy and praxis. The following paragraphs are based on his writings, specifically his The Imaginary Institution of Society (19XX).
For Castoriadis, social change emerges through the “social imaginary”. Autonomous societies are aware that their imaginaries are made by society. In other words, autonomous societies are self-organizing creations.
In the preceding pages I have argued that we typically experience the structural features of our social world as “givens”. People in “traditional”, that is pre-modern, societies are usually
unaware that their society is the outcome of their concerted everyday activities. But in modern societies people increasingly are aware that their society is ongoingly reproduced through their situated actions. Recall that I have stated that this “reflexivity” is a defining feature of modernity.
Castoriadis suggests that we are programmed into frameworks of thinkable possibilities which lock us into mindsets that shape and limit our participation with other people and the social landscape. Through engagement with these acceptable definitions of reality, and of ourselves and our desires, we ongoingly reproduce the world. When we change our maps of meaning in our mind, we change the world. Thus, Castoriadis highlights cognitive and definitional aspects of social change.
To be free populations most consciously decide to move away from oppressive circumstances through a conscious jump -cut to a new reality. Truly knowing that “another world is possible”, individuals must explicitly decide at some point in time to radically transform what has been accepted reality and begin anew with a liberated mode of being in the world.
What changes are the people's social imaginaries and their reflexive consciousness of t role in reproducing the system. I might suggest that we need a mass hypnosis upon our collective unconsciousness to help us overcome the limits which we accept. Willpower itself is not enough because we still do not believe our capacity for revolutionary change.
To be “modern” is to be aware that our everyday habits and routine behavioral patterns lock us into existing systems of being. When we change these mundane actions, we change the world., Across this great county, many communities are choosing different lifestyles including “voluntary simplicity” , “double income no kids”, “senior retirement community on golf course,... When we act based upon reflection on the ethics of our actions and the potential consequences of them, we can make the world a better place to live. When masses of people choose to change old behavior patterns simultaneously based upon that type of reflexive process, revolutions occur. This is reflexive praxis.
TEMPORAL ASPECTS OF PRAXIS
I see five steps in the sequential unfolding of praxis:
(1) Individual reflexively doing “normal” accepted action, thus maintaining the status quo; (2) something makes the person stop and contemplate doing something different, something more in line with their ethics; (3) Before doing the acts, we imagine other people's responses to our creative interventions; (4) Person does the new behavior. The act is completed.; Praxis happens; (5) There are consequences, including potential sanctioning sequences, revolutions, or a return to the status quo.
MORE ON REFLEXIVE PRAXIS
“There is nothing more powerful than in individual acting out of conscience, thus bringing the collective conscience to life.” Norman Cousins
Societies like ours, that are structured in dominance, are marked by what Erica Sherover-Marcuse calls a “mystified consciousness”. This mystified consciousness encompasses “modes of being, ways of acting and experiencing oneself and one's existence to which people have become accustomed, attached and even “addicted” on an affective level (Sherover--Marcuse 1986).
Our habitual modes of being in the world seem natural and normal to us and we can be blinded to the fact that we reproduce systems of domination through their instantiation. The road to liberation is found when humans move from a “mystified consciousness” to an “emancipatory consciousness”. This is no easy task as the habits of oppression and injustice are deeply embedded in our subjectivity and are often unconscious. A rigorous process of “unlearning” is necessary in which one scrutinizes the very presuppositions of one's ideas, one's language and one's emotional demeanor in the social world. We begin to stop our participation in reproducing hierarchy and hatred. Sherover-Marcuse founded the Todos Society to facilitate workshops and seminars on unlearning racism and I have embraced her approach in my teaching.
For example, in my classes on “unlearning oppression” students from majority populations become “allies” to those from minority populations. An ally refuses to tolerate the subjugation of other social groups of which he or she is not a part. They stop acts of domination in their presence and no longer participate in perpetuating a society structured in dominance. At least in part. What was a racist and sexist white man becomes an actively non-racist and non-sexist person.
I want to highlight the spiritual nature of this transformation of the practice of subjectivity. The “praxis spirituality” outlined through this essay provides a liberation cosmology and a vision of social justice linked to our mundane activities in the everyday world. These everyday beliefs, rituals and practices are imbued with sacredness. To become aware of one's involvement in reproducing domination and to choose to cease that involvement is a radically spiritual act in that by identifying with the downtrodden, and disinherited, one is making a moral claim that all human being are equal and warrant dignity, respect and love.
For the first time in human history large numbers of people are acquiring a reflexive consciousness which allows them to see how their everyday practical activities in the liefworld reproduce our social world. This special mode of conscious self-awareness enables us to reflect upon and to celebrate the deepest mystery of the universe—the unfolding story of cosmic evolution.
Over the course of humanity’s evolution, Duane Elgin 20 sees distinct stages of growth in our consciousness. When archaic humans began burials, there must have become an awareness of a “self” that lives and then dies. For our hunter and gather ancestors, life was
20 Promises Ahead
so immediate that things just happened, with little contemplation. People operated on automatic going through lifestyle's daily routines. The gradual shift to agricultural societies and a settled way of life meant that humans stepped back from unconscious immersion in nature to see how nature could be tamed through farming. The scientific breakthroughs which accompanied the birth of industrial capitalism in the late 1700s and early 1800s brought a new sense of time as “going somewhere” and the potential for progress. Elgin sees the communications revolution as allowing a quantum leap forward in our consciousness:
“No longer operating largely on automatic, entire societies are increasingly conscious of the simple fact of consciousness and that changes everything. With reflection comes the ability to witness what is happened in the world and the freedom to chose our pathway into the future (Elgin p. 172).
Elgin predicts two future stages of our evolving consciousness. First, a compassionate consciousness which will make global reconciliation and commitment possible, and second, a flow consciousness in which we will know whether we are “living in a way that serves the well-being of the whole” (p. 174). “Our journey of awakening” will fulfill the purpose for which the cosmos was created,
A VISION OF A JUST SOCIETY
A vision of a just society is our imaginary of a better social world in which all people are treated with dignity and respect, a sense of fairness pervades all institutional operations, human suffering is minimized and we live in harmony with the planet. I will contend that these imaginings of how “things should be” are sacred visions that best emerge in collective dialogue and with spiritual practices which involve deep contemplation.
Human beings are enmeshed in a web of living beings. Our interconnections with other humans and all other living beings is at the heart of many of the world's religions. In fact, the word “religion” comes. . . .
These are the ties that bind us. Albert Schweitzer stated: “By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world... we become good, deep and alive.” Because these connections are seen as sacred, they are inviolable. Having a reverence for life, substantively alters our perception of, and relationship with, the world. It becomes a sacred vision. Rather than feeling disconnected and alienated in a mass society that leaves me on the verge of cracking up, I develop compassion for my brothers and sisters. This compassion turns “its” into “thous”. I ask “Who is my neighbor?”
This vision of communion engenders sacred obligations. If all people are due a certain standard of respect and reverence, then when that moral standard is violated, we feel outrage. And, for social justice activists, that violation of moral standards and accompanying outrage compels us to take actions to repair and heal the world.
Any vision of a just society must be based on careful analysis of the widespread and unnecessary suffering in our current society. A vision of a future, just society is best created
out of understanding the present society, its problems and the sources of these problems. These visions are ever evolving. Through history a story emerges of an evolving communal quest for greater justice. Generation after generation the body politic has gradually become more just. People and populations who were previously silenced, marginalized and treated as non-persons have been given a voice, have moved to the center and have become enfranchised.
Another way to invoke a vision of just society would be in terms of strengthening three sets of institutions vital to contemporary social democracy: (1) a democratic political system in which power is shared and balanced and opposition is encouraged and celebrated; (2) the market is sufficiently regulated to ensure the protection of consumers; (3) the welfare state redistributes overall wealth to generously support the health and well-being of all citizens The fairness of these institutions is paramount to a just society, insuring all citizens are treated with dignity and respect..
COMMUNITY AS ALIENATION-BUSTER
Dialogue, sociality and collective action provide relationships which act as reality checks to self-illusion,. “You” keep me grounded.
A vision of a just society is not a solitary exercise, but is best created through dialogue with others. The power of community is unlocked through social engagement. I am not alone in my social justice work. As a critical sociologist I have spent years studying the mass psychology of our times and have labeled it “the mass psychology of misery” 21. So many of my brothers and sisters are in so much pain that they are on the verge of loosing it. Drawing upon John Zerzan's anarchist critique I catalog the feelings of anxiety, feeling of emptiness and sadness which pervade our social landscape.
My theology is one that acknowledges this pervasive misery and analyzes it as a particularly “modern” phenomenon, largely caused by forms of sociality and mindsets brought on by industrial capitalism. Karl Marx famously spoke about how our economic system leads to our alienation from ourselves, our fellow humans and from our ecological system.
Loneliness, isolation and social fragmentation are central challenges of building spiritual communities in our era. As Forrest Church states ”togetherness is no longer a luxury but a necessity”.
21See my blog “Doing Modernity” 2008.
The very base line of spirituality is to bring people together to share their experiences with one another and to create and strengthen our social bonds. Small groups with lots of opportunities to share and listen to others tell their stories are necessary. Relationships are the most effective way to overcome the mass psychology of misery.
The collective aspect of Praxis Spirituality is acknowledged. Through focused dialogues in small group encounters people can share their life experiences and come to understand each other and our challenges. These dialogues are an essential part of creating the collective resources necessary to envision better worlds and the work needed to create these worlds. Social change is not a solitary activity although I want to emphasize “the power of one”. It is through collective action and social movement participation that effective social change happens. Moreover, the social nature of justice-building activities serves as a potent elixir to help keep the essential loneliness of existence at bay.
EVERYDAY SPIRITUAL PRACTICES
A wide array of spiritual practices can help in the creation of a vision of a just society. I see both prayer and meditation 22 as transformative techniques of spiritual enlightenment which do much to help people and communities. Silence, mindfulness, contemplation and discernment allow the mind to calm down and focus clearly on what is at hand. At times, we direct our thoughts to certain topics or concerns and metaphorically send them out to world. When we clear our minds of thoughts and attempt to just be with the breath, we focus on the embodied sensations of moment. And other times we attempt to open our minds and hearts and be receptive to the wisdom of the universe (discernment).
Prayer is a spiritual practice which creates a sacred space, provides hope for what we are doing and connects us to the spirit of love. When praying, I attempt to:
(1) rejoice in the glorious wonder of the universe; (2) focus on what is in my heart; (3) remain humble; (4) speak the truth; (5) acknowledge the suffering of the world; (6) express gratitude for all I have; (7) recognize the change I have to make; (8) imagine a better world made through good works; (9) recommit myself to helping others, and above all; (10) express love for my
These other spiritual practices could play a role in social justice work:
• shamanic journey ing through drumming or entheogenic consumption;
• the use of song and dance as sacred activities
• walks in nature and the communion found therein;
• service-work to help those less fortunate;
22My favorite meditation is “A Guided Meditation” by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
• writing and journaling to gain personal insight and to create works of beauty;
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEMPLATION
Contemplation is any practice designed to quiet the mind and cultivate a capacity for deep concentration and insight. While usually practiced in silence, some types of contemplative practice involve voice or other use of sound. Types of contemplative practice include prayer, meditation, mindful walking, yoga, vision quests and council circles.
Through contemplation the individual brings aspects of themselves into focus and becomes more fully aware of the interconnectedness of life. Contemplation can be a solitary experience or one that is communal. The intention with which a practice is done is a very important factor. Contemplation connects us with an inner source of wisdom – a deep spiritual dimension. While contemplative practices are today employed as practical tools for stress reduction, relaxation and concentration, in social justice work we emphasize its transformation potential.
The spiritual transformational potential of contemplation includes:
• Deep, focused attention that dissolves our preconceptions so that we can observe situations as they truly are;
• Putting ourselves in another's shoes as a way to bear witness to the suffering and pain of others';
• Paying attention to what is in your heart;
• Remaining open to outcomes and remaining unattached;
• Conceiving of loving action toward others and our selves;
• Recommit ourselves to nonviolence, reverence for life, solidarity, justice, democratic practice and sustainability.
A PROPHETIC VOICE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
A prophet is one who speaks by divine inspiration, often critically evaluating an existing society and puts forward a vision of a future society. This moral vision of “what isn't working” and “the way it should be” aid a people to understand their world and change it in accord with spiritual principles and visions of social justice.
In about 750 BCE, the Old Testament prophet Amos indicts Israel for the various forms of social injustice within the society, including indifference, inequality, hypocrisy and conspicuous consumption. Amos says that God wants:
“But let justice roll down like waters,. And righteousness like a ever-flowing stream.”
Prophetic acts are attention -getting symbolic actions which dramatize the prophetic message. Sometimes prophets use a little theatrical drama to garner interest.
Experiences of the sacred are the source of a prophet's sense of mission, her or his passion for justice and their courage to challenge the powers that be.
As Marcus Borg 23 states:
(S)social justice is concerned with the structures of society and their results. Because it is result-oriented, it discerns whether the structures of society—in other words, the social as whole—are just in their effects. Do they produce a large impoverish class or result in a more equitable distribution of resources? Do they benefit some at the expense of many or serve all equally? Do they produce conflict or peace? Do they destroy or nourish a future? (Borg, 1989 p. 139).
JESUS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Just as the Roman authorities suspected, Jesus of Nazareth was a dangerous subversive, committed to nonviolence and radically opposed to the established order. Drawing upon the Jewish prophetic tradition, Jesus preached that religious observance without social justice was a blasphemous mockery, He repeatedly reminded the powerful that societies are judged buy how they treat the poor and defenseless.
Injustice is often the result of willed inattention rather than malice, according to Jesus's teachings. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite did not actively harm to the wounded man on the highway. Passing on the other side of the road, they avoided the uncomfortable sight.,
Jesus affirmed the lives of the marginalized, displaced and silenced. “You are the light of the world!” he proclaimed.
The Hebrew prophetic tradition that Jesus inherited involved bearing witness to social injustice, living an ethical life in community and the importance of reformation for all. His life was a testimony for the struggle for healing and recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of the poor and oppressed.
His lifestyle was no less radical than his words. An itinerant cynic sage, he had no job, no home and no family. He begged for his food. He urged people to reject the world's values and realize the “kingdom of God”. Christianity has a long history of standing up for the oppressed. Unfortunately, Christianity has an equally long history of oppressing others (consider the murder of pagan heretics, the Witch Burnings, the Inquisition). With such c0onflicting results stemming from the institutionalization of Jesus's message, a stain has been placed on his legacy.
STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK FOR ADVANCING SOCIAL JUSTICE
23 Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. (2001)
1. Focus on structural oppression and systemic inequality rather than personal prejudice; 2. Focus on impacts rather than intentions. Unequal impacts and outcomes are evidence that oppression exists. Intentions are debatable and hard to prove; 3. Propose solutions that emphasize inclusion and equity rather than diversity; 4. Empower stakeholders and target institutional powerholders
TYPES OF SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTION
I am employing the concept of social justice broadly to include the promotion and protection of human rights and responsibilities. The emphasis is on the rights of society's most vulnerable groups.
After deep soul searching and community dialogue a vision of a just society emerges enshrining the values of fairness, well-being, self-actualization, and peace relevant for the local community.
The range of types of social actions which counts as social justice work is vast.
For example, as ally with oppressed groups fighting interpersonal oppression one can:
• interrupt offensive jokes
• speak up for voices not present
• acknowledge one's privilege
Social justice work includes how I treat people with dignity and respect, and how I urge others to do the same
Six broad categories of social justice work are:
1. Advocacy, the strategy that is most often employed in the pursuit of social justice, can be defined as the pursuit of influencing outcomes including policies. For example, an individual or an organization can visit or write elected officials or give testimony at a public hearing.
2. Service seeks to meet the needs of those who suffer. It typically does not solve the problem.
3. Education includes a wide array of strategies which seek to inform the public about social injustice, including community forums, letters, web pages, op-eds
4. Witnessing makes public by word or deed the convictions of an individual or organization regarding an issues. Types of witnessing include demonstrations, vigils, marches, letter-writing, passing resolutions, press releases, petition campaigns.
5. Community organizing involves all efforts which seeks to inspire the public to want to
change the situation in which the social injustice exists.
6. Stakeholder analysis involves careful examination of the targets of social injustice by an individual or an organization. It is important to have a dialogue with those who suffer societal injustice, listening with an open mind to their concerns, learning about their efforts to alter the situation and their goals regarding the issue. If the target groups is historically marginalized, silenced and disenfranchised, efforts to empower the targeted group are crucial. Those not directly suffering the injustice can often serve best as allies and supporters of those who are directly effected. Many of us need to acknowledge our social privileges and know when to step back, relinquish control and not take over.
In addition to broad types of social justice work, we can specify more narrowly social justice strategies. For example:
Hearings are oral testimony from members of targeted communities solicited and received. People tell their individual stories concerning an injustice. Hearings investigate civil and human right issues, offer recommendations for change and help to frame the public's reception of the concern.
Resolutions issued by an organization express a formal position that can serve as the basis for actions.
Direct action aims to disrupt the daily routines of targets, who are typically powerful stakeholders who have the power to address the social justice concern. Direct action also aims to make those targets accountable for their activities and make them pay a price. This type of social action provides the targets with justifiable reason to alter policies and practices and can provide the targets with demands to which they must respond.
Impact statements are formal analytical reports which spell out the unanticipated consequences of proposed legislation on specified groups (such as racial groups, women, other minorities) or the environment, prior to its adoption.
BEARING WITNESS TO SOCIAL IN JUSTICE
To bear witness to social injustice is to not turn away from the ugly and upsetting realities of our world; To bear witness to social injustice is to feel uncomfortable in the presence of hatred, oppression and discrimination; To bear witness to social injustice is to proclaim:”I will NOT forget the human suffering I have observed”'; To bear witness to social injustice is to re-dedicate oneself to the pursuit of human liberation
through the use of spiritual principles; To bear witness to social injustice is to make public these shameful acts; When bearing witness to social injustice is accompanied by a critical analysis of the root causes, especially the structural violence, it can inform and strengthen the prophetic voices so vital to social justice movements by grounded critiques of the status quo in empirical observation. After bearing witness , observers need to pause and reflect upon what they saw,. Contrast that with “the way things should be” and consider the necessary steps to reach the promised land.
Spirituality gives meaning to my life. By seeing everyday life as imbued with sacredness. I usually stay positive, connect with other people in community and attempt to do the right thing.
We seem to live in an age of extremes. As Charles Dickens proclaimed, “It is the best of times; it is the worst of times.” Genocide, mass starvation and suicide bombers exist alongside the heights of human creativity and scientific progress. Given this situation, I ask myself: “how shall we worship?” And “what or who is my God?,” and often find myself alone among the “True Believers”. At times the loneliness is overwhelming and I sit and cry.
But I refuse to become overcome by despair and know that through my life I can make a difference. I can change the world. You can change the world. We all can change the world. And change the world we must!
There are so many ills which plague our planet, so many sorrows that stain our existence. We must continue to struggle against injustice and the systems of domination that surround us. For me these acts of resistance and creative interventions against injustice are the most sacred of activities.
When I refuse to just go along with the “normal” course of the world, when I stop and contemplate the “right” thing to do, when I put my ideals into action, when I consider the consequences of my lifestyle and habits, I become a Holy Warrior in the war for human liberation.
Think about it. Another world is possible. We can create societies in which equality, justice and peace abound, in which all humans are accorded the dignity they deserve.
One of the biggest challenges we face is our sense of what is possible. We are locked into frameworks of thinkable possibilities that limit our engagement with the world. We think “this is just the way things are”, or “I am just one person” or “everyone does it anyway”. We go along with “Tradition” and accepted definitions of reality. We, sometimes, unknowingly, create the very circumstances that hold us down.
To become aware of the the power of human action and our ability to create new worlds is a
sacred shift in consciousness. By identifying with the silenced, displaced and downtrodden, I say: “We are all equal and deserve dignity, respect and love”. I decide to stop my participation in the normal, accepted ways of being in the world. I choose to break the cycle of acquiescence. I see how my simple habits of life contribute to systems of hierarchy and hated. This is the stuff from which evolutions are made! No longer operating on automatic, we choose the path to liberation. We know that our simple decision to act differently will make a difference.
Now if many of us all choose to simultaneously change our ways of being in the world, the pathway to the future becomes filled with liberated possibilities. When we live in a way that serves the well-being of the whole and become awake to our complicity with injustice and of our potential for greatness, we take part in a celebration of the unfolding of cosmic evolution and the deepest purposes of our existence. When we act consciously, we choose creativity over sameness, freedom over subjugation, compassion over alienation and intention over compliance.
So, do the right thing. Examine the mundane moments of your life, your habits of talking, consuming, driving—the stuff of everyday and everynight being in the world, to see the unintended consequences of your actions.
Assume that some of your ways of being in the world contribute to the ills of the world, including injustice, domination and inhuman treatment. Imagine a world without hierarchy and hatred, without domination and oppression, created by you! Reflect upon your actions. Know that you can make a difference. Do the right thing.