From a human perspective, life is unjust. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires, landslides and tsunamis wipe out people, homes, animals and vegetation. Corporations pollute water and air, rape land, annihilate species, and deplete natural resources without conscience. The greedy and cruel abuse the innocent and helpless. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We lose our jobs. Accidents happen. Politicians lie. Ads lie. Big business lies. Religious authorities lie. Friends and lovers lie. How are we to handle the injustices of life?
Some escape through optimism, utopian fantasies, or denial. Some through addictions to work, food, exercise, drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex, television, religion, the internet, or video games. Some grow bitter, cynical, or deeply depressed. A few commit suicide. Others dive into activism and take stands, stand in picket lines, join humanitarian missions, lead movements, raise funds, build houses, endow foundations, make donations, or volunteer in schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, nursing homes and political campaigns.
Obviously, addressing injustice directly is far more beneficial than ignoring it, but even social activism has a down side. One danger is that our cause can become a way of escaping our shadows. Have you ever known someone who can cry about the starving children in Africa but ignores her inner child who is starved for kindness and affection? Another danger is becoming so obsessed that we neglect our loved ones and responsibilities. Or we can experience physical burnout and a weakened immune system. Some sensitive souls absorb too much trauma and become overwhelmed with morbid fear and crippling anxiety or apathy. Others grow increasingly rude, hostile, and abusive. Where is the line between taking a stand and standing down? Here are a few thoughts. I invite you to add some of your own.
When we experience injustice I believe the most important thing we can do is allow ourselves to feel the normal emotions of rage, grief, helplessness, fear, frustration, or revenge without immediately acting on them. It takes enormous awareness and self-restraint to tolerate the pain and tension of injustice for very long, but if we act too quickly we risk hurting or taking advantage of others. Our first goal is to see the beliefs, attitudes and choices that led us into our situation because these are things we can change. For this we need time to rest and reflect until we feel clear-headed and emotionally stable enough to be objective. Only then will we be able to create a practical, ethical plan that serves self and other, justice and compassion.
If we observe injustice we need to find ways of helping that suit our gifts without betraying our conscience, trampling on anyone’s rights, or needlessly causing others pain. And unless we feel drawn to martyrdom, (and very few are genuinely called to go down that self-destructive road), we need to use methods that do not jeopardize our own lives, families, or livelihood. We need to listen to our bodies, know our limits and protect our boundaries; and we need to center ourselves in a meaningful practice that renews our energy and generates a loving, peaceful attitude.
May you trust the life around and within you to lead you to the unique contribution only you can make to righting the world’s wrongs, and may we all be part of the solution to injustice everywhere. Namaste.