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[OPINION] Social justice worrier

I have been called a social justice warrior as people roll their eyes or crack their keyboards bashing it out. To their further irritation, I take the allegation as the highest form of compliment.

The disappointment and annoyance of the finger pointers is palpable. I believe not defending myself and my conscious choice to be an active citizen serves as an invitation to readers to look at what a social justice warrior is to them and how social justice should be a priority, always.

In time, as with most things, it will be told that we need many, many more social justice warriors and social justice worriers. Should we engage in defining for ourselves how social justice looks and contribute with actions, not just our voices on Facebook, Twitter and a virtual unreality, we would be able to cause transformation everywhere we find ourselves.

My greatest drive is that people realise that human connection is the only way for us to solve so many problems in our homes, our communities, our country and our world.

As a human resources practitioner I convinced many people over years that the so-called soft skills they referred to in job descriptions were actually the hard skills. Hard skills are not learning numbers, technologies and mechanics. Those are aptitudes. Those can be taught.

But empathy, compromise, varying points of view, understanding (if not accepting) that there are so many different life contexts - generally, these remain areas of development. We are not yet rewarded for them as they are treated like ‘nice to haves’, yet they are the skills that make the world work, or not work. These are leadership traits, not soft skills.

Relationships are key in everything. Relationships include how you do or don’t fit in with your family, how you respect and understand basic human values, when and how you give your word and whether you keep it or break it.

Integrity is often loosely thrown out as an attribute. For me, it is the most important human competence we get a chance to practice every day, in all our choices. It’s our ability to take responsibility, be accountable and use our authority for our good without it being empty for the people we impact.

The world is in trouble. For me, it is the greatest trouble we could ask for. I see many opportunities for creating new possibilities on the back of the evidence of unworkable and to solve the not-so-mysterious methods of workable.

It feels like there is a global implosion happening. Nature is shouting to us. markets are thrashing about and the traditionally strong and powerful are being redefined. No money in the bank or on the market will save their faces. The snowball is rolling and picking up pace daily. The roots of evil are not power or money, but how people choose to manage themselves in the world.

The exposure of the evils that people engage in are being aired in public, for us to learn from. Too many still believe themselves invincible, in charge, unseen and untouchable. They are in an invisible queue, but unaccustomed as they are to queuing, they are still not alive to the reality of their ticket being called. They have managed to create a web of deceit, a false sense of security, often related to fortune and sometimes fame. Their high horse of righteousness best be prepared with a step ladder and lessons in tuck and roll. All good things come to an end, this one of the guarantees of life.

I especially love the opportunity to illustrate to my four children the whys, the who and the how of what we have been teaching them and how it doesn’t work if you don’t, and how good will always trump bad. The arm of the law is long and patient. That the atrocities in our world and around us are manmade. That without a unified purpose as human beings there exists a free-for-all and a free-fall when you get found out (refer to tuck and roll analogy above). We must pick which side of the fence we jump. The ‘yes but’ principle of sitting on the fence with one butt cheek clued to ‘yes but’ is not a powerful way to live.

Living a life that is purposeful, generates measurable change and helps you reach your purposes without being unethical, gathering like- and unlike-minded people around you to offer you a sense of ‘we are all in it together’ are different ways of nurturing a group of people with common basic ideals. When the proverbial fan starts doing its revolutions, the hot air of excuses is all they have.

We have to live our lives as if we are in the Big Brother house and everyone is watching our example. I think there has been some benefit of my (not perfect but…) Catholic upbringing, where we were taught that even if our parents couldn’t see us, God was always watching. We laugh it off now as we realise it is not necessarily a god but your internal gauge, your conscience, your sense of right and wrong, workable and not workable. Too many people have switched that gauge onto autopilot and they do just what works for them. They ask for forgiveness, not permission, when they are finally exposed.

My wish for our country is that we start reaching out to each other to learn about our contexts, our stories, how it was, how it is and how it can be. If we repair our past, we will be fixing something that didn’t work in the first place. If together we work on creating something that we want for ourselves and our country, we get to say, to lead, to follow, to learn and to teach. A less predictable future than the one we have our sights or blinkers on for now. This is the South Africa I live in irrespective of how a social justice warrior is defined by the naysayers.

Madiba taught us “Good wise leaders respect the law and basic values of their society”. So should people, social justice warriors and social justice worriers everywhere. Until we are part of the solution, we remain complicit and part of the problems we usually raise without any enquiry around what I can do where I am and with what I have? For everything to work we need everybody.

May 2018, 2019, 2020 etcetera be the time we regroup at the blank canvas, with all our crayons. If not us, then who?

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn

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