0317 – On “different” people, and the elitism of social justice.

I just realized one thing: I have very low tolerance towards people who think differently than I do. I say “different” in quotation marks because the word different is redundant, for each of us is always different from one another hence there is no same people. We gather and form communities with others around similar interests and take comfort in the sense of belonging, but there is no denying that we all have our differences. As I continue to work with the happiness movement and attempt to surround myself with people who share similar passions, I find myself to be less willing to empathize with people who are different. I get annoyed at people who don’t understand social justice. I don’t get why people don’t understand that GDP is inadequate, or that Americans are grossly overworked. I frown upon overzealous shoppers. And materialistic people. And the wealthy who doesn’t donate. I look down on people who take jobs because they want the money. And people who can’t be bothered to think about what they are passionate about.

I’ve lost a lot of patience.

This might be a result of my overly structured days in college, where meetings and classes and gatherings and catching up with friends fill up my calendar in a way that I’m constantly going from one thing to another. However, another key thought has been wandering around my mind. As I continue to wear my passion on my sleeves, I start to believe in the cause that I fight for more and more. I start to believe that I am right. And when I believe I’m right, it seems natural that the people who are different are wrong.

In the fight for environmental conservation and social justice, we sometimes talk about value systems, and that there’re some certain values that are associated with being eco-friendly or a social justice ally. So, then, are we trying to change people’s values? And are some people’s values better than others’? The question then becomes: Is social justice elitist?

Someone told me that the brand of social justice that I grew up with at the University of Michigan tends to be elitist. “Michigan tends to preach it that way,” he said. So perhaps my view is biased, but I do know that I’ve never really thought about the highly convolved nature of empathy and social activism. To me, it is important to do this work, realizing that we come from different places, have different privileges, hold different values and hold different thoughts. Social or environmental activism should mean fighting for equality, not because we are superior, but because we are privileged–privileged not only in upbringing but also in the ability to carry out this work and to live our values. When we try to induce change in people, we should do so not with contempt, but with love and compassion. Our values are not superior; simply different. All-inviting, all-loving.

In my opinion, the challenge is not simply to find kindred souls who keep you fighting the fight, but finding those who keep you fighting the right way. How you live after you find your place in this world is perhaps as important as how you find your place. Only those who are willing and able to exercise empathy will truly maximize the impact of their work and find the peace that lies within.

I write this post not partially to try to convince myself of this. I have a long way to go in my journey. At this moment, I am discouraged. But the journey continues. As it always does.


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