“What does social justice mean to you?” This was the question I was asked. My immediate emotional response was long, intense, and passionate. My reasonable response was not.
I immediately wanted to say how every person - regardless of race, gender, orientation, birthplace, or age - deserves the same opportunities as everyone else. I wanted to talk about the unfair standards we hold EVERY person to; about mental health awareness, about education blockades. I wanted to discuss immigration, political correctness, human trafficking...but I stopped. Because that was the not the question.
By definition, ‘social justice’ is “the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” To take from the rich and give to the poor. A distribution entrusted and organized by our governments, as stated in a UN report:
“Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and passionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth…..not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.”
It is my understanding that the term and use of ‘social justice’ is often misconstrued and/or misused. It has become a blanket term for anything someone becomes passionate about. We see something unfair in society and we think “where is the justice here?”. So it is understandable that we would think of this term and use it as a crutch for our argument.
So let’s take a breath and step back.
I won’t speak for you, but for me ‘social justice’ always meant SOCIAL RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES. That every person should have the same opportunities to build themselves up and thrive in society. By definition, this is not what ‘social justice’ means; and I do not identify with its meaning. Yet because of the nature of the phrase, it seems like shooting myself in the foot to say that I do not agree with ‘social justice’. So instead, I will focus on what I do agree with. Which brings me back to opportunity.
Recently my son came upon a ton of really cool rocks, and decided that he would paint and sell them. One of his friends immediately saw what he was doing and joined him. Together they sold about 12 rocks for a total of $10 in one day. They each took home $5 and left feeling very accomplished. Later that evening, my son set up the table again at a bon fire and continued to sell his rocks. He made a handful of sales which left him feeling enthusiastic about setting up the table AGAIN the next day. While he sat and promoted his rocks, his friends played. And it wasn’t until his friend saw the $10 bill and change in his cup that they ran back and asked for his cut of the profits. After my son told him that he wouldn’t be sharing, his friend came to me; only to find that I sided with my son.
In this scenario, my son and his friend had the same opportunity. They each had access to rocks and paint and a space in which to obtain a sale. Their varying success was dictated only by their effort and enthusiasm. To enforce social justice in this scenario, my son should have split the profits of the evening and second day sales with his friend. And that is where I stray from the term.
For me, when it comes to any and all realms of social, economic, environmental, or emotional disparities it really comes down to this: OPPORTUNITY and EDUCATION.
Are we giving the same opportunities to everyone to succeed and live a happy life? Do we vary the type of opportunities so that everyone has access to them? Is creating a free website with information on certain platforms really a fair opportunity if there are countless people without access to internet? How can we improve accessibility so that people all over the world have access to safe spaces where they can thrive and reach their full potential?
In my mind, the first step for inciting change as an individual would be to educate yourself.
One more time for the people in the back: EDUCATE YOURSELF
Facebook is not a reliable source of information. Memes are not facts. Before you spread information, verify it. Help cure a huge movement of misinformation by respecting yourself enough to question what you hear. Research. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of being wrong. Be excited about finding out truths. Once you have the information, you can start to focus on the positive action required to make measureable change.
Other short-term solutions as individuals include volunteering for causes we believe in or supporting organizations that are geared to the types of changes we’d like to see. If you decided to go with the latter, I would suggest reviewing websites like www.charityintelligence.ca/ to ensure that you are supporting organizations that are distributing their donations in a responsible manner.
You can write to your political representatives and make sure that they are aware of your concerns. Learn to discuss important topics with the people you surround yourself with. As a side note, I have always seen it as a sign of an intelligent mind when someone is able to build up their own beliefs and ideas without tearing down the beliefs or ideas of others.
So to return to the initial question of “what does social justice mean to you”? I think that Friedrich Hayek (economist, philosopher, philanthropist) may have said it best:
“I have come to feel strongly that the greatest service I can still render to my fellow men would be that I could make the speakers and writers among them thoroughly ashamed ever again to employ the term ‘social justice’”.
Written by Lisette Xavier
/ I am a Canadian singer-songwriter. I have absolutely ZERO formal education in law, economics, or politics; so the opinions I have made here have been done with independent study and an open heart.