My favorite definition of social justice is from the faculty at the Social Justice Education Program at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It reads,
Goal: Full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.
Process: The process for attaining the goal of social justice, should also be democratic and participatory, inclusive and affirming of human agency and human capacities for working collaboratively to create change.
It actually is not a singular, simple definition, but rather one that takes times to process and understand at multiple levels. Every time I share this definition with a group that I am facilitating I seem to think a new way about it. Or find myself realizing that it has so much depth than I thought the 101 times I have looked at it before this moment. The many ways that I dissect and strive to understand that definition is not what this post is about. Maybe I'll dig into that another time.
I share the definition today to reflect on the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the quote image above. Dr. King delivered these words as part of a Christmas eve sermon referring to the Vietnam War in 1967 only months before his assassination. A more complete quote reads,
And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "A Christmas Sermon on Peace," The Trumpet of Conscience, 24 December 1967
I read this quote this morning as part of a devotional on this 2021 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Day and I immediately thought about that definition of social justice that I shared above. Just as Dr. King preached, the means by which we strive toward the goal of social justice matters. As the definition states, the process matters. How we do anything is just important as what we are trying to arrive at. It is a basic logic problem. If you are striving for a socially just world or a racially just organization or an anti-ableist experience or an all gender celebratory experience - it is impossible to arrive at the goal without practicing in all ways of being (within your awareness) the very thing that you want to see happen or goal you are reaching for. And as your awareness grows, you practice from that state of awareness. Then from the next state of awareness. But we must practice.
The world we want, a socially just world, will be like a can that is continually kicked down the road with our every action and thought that is not with the intention and thoughtfulness of being socially just. And what's even cooler about striving for the process of social justice as we work toward the goal is that the process will lead us toward our own healing, our own alignment to our core values, and our own connection and alignment to our worth...which is at the very foundation of the change we seek.
Get clear about how you are going after social justice...because the means matters.