Social justice and sustainability have become a modern trend label. However, do we truly know what it means?
Lately I’ve been part of a book club, reading ‘generous justice’ by Tim Keller. It looks at a holistic picture of these global issues and as a group we’ve been discussing, learning and asking questions. Through these conversations I suddenly realised how shallow my view of sustainability had been.
A Limited View
If you think social justice or sustainability is all about reducing your carbon emissions or refusing to buy clothing, then you are on your way. But there is so much more.
Social justice is all about allowing every single person on earth, to live a full life. It’s about generating equality, fairness, freedom and value in all global societies.
Likewise, the UN sustainability goals are not limited to responsible consumption and biodiversity. Others include equality, good education, healthcare, excellent work, economic growth… find the list here.
Go Beyond ‘Charity’ – Holistic ‘Social Justice’
Holistically, social justice views every individual as worthy; it looks beyond charity, restoring dignity and breaking boundaries. It requires us to think selflessly in all areas of life and continually question how we can use the influence we have, to provide (and not exploit) someone else’s stepping stones.
Whilst poverty is a huge issue, it’s more than this – there are rich people today who are outcasted or politically restricted and stripped from a full life. Older generations are increasingly lonely.
Social justice is complex. Encouragingly, we can get actively involved.
What lessons have I learnt lately?
- Poverty is complex and systematic. One huge issue is debt and the truth is, debt is a chaotic, overwhelming experience. Giving to charities such as CAP (who free people from debts whilst coaching them to make good financial habits) gives others the chance of a more financially-free life.
- In the workplace, justice can be as simple as being a good employer, paying a generous wage or encouraging initiatives that support local groups / schools / charities.
- Inclusivity is essential. There should be no social outsiders. Even as children at school, we witness a social ranking that always classes certain individuals as ‘weird’ or outsiders. Whether at school, in the office, or neighbourhood, living for social justice means intentionally conversing, and building life with those who are different. Don’t just give a charitable smile. Befriend them. Invite the person you wouldn’t normally invite to your gathering. Everyone has a right to flourish and be in your community.
- Advocacy has power. Those in higher classes or positions can do more than financially exchanging charity. Those with education, power, knowledge, business… should be pressuring officials to make beneficial changes in lower class neighbourhoods. They should be offering apprenticeships to local state school children.
- Whatever skill or treasure you have, you can use it to build up a family or community around you.
Local social justice can be simple
Social justice is often viewed on a global scale. Globally we can have a huge impact yes, but God is also in the details. Our holistic sustainability starts in the small everyday. We make 35,000 decisions everyday. What if we challenged ourselves to make more selfless decisions today than we did yesterday?
Locally, we can:
- Grab coffee from an independent business, supporting a local individual in place of a multi-million corporate chain.
- Buy an additional healthy meal for the food bank because no one in your town should be going hungry
- Consider how our political decisions can promote beneficial change in struggling neighbourhoods and schools
- Talk to our neighbours – you never know who may be lonely, feeling overwhelmed or in need of a non-financial helping hand.
- Take interest in how our banks invest money; move to good banks that support rather than exploit. It’s free and good to view society interest and not just your own 0.23%.
- See an issue? Write to your MP or local council. Or, get your community together to take action.
- Education is vital, and we can do this from a mobile phone! Last year, BLM protests sparked a new trend on social media. People were educated, and others shared infographics on social media to challenge us to rethink, sign petitions and better understand various issues. Let’s keep doing this!
Sustainability & Excellent Work
Finally, I want to highlight one of the UN goals: excellent work. Our vocation is one of the biggest influences we have. If we work excellently, to high standards and whilst considering others, we can see social justice.
I’m working in the field of architecture. Working excellently means always ensuring that wheelchair users, children, elderly, blind, deaf and many other ‘forgotten’ people can joyfully experience it. Working excellently means ensuring buildings are fire safe – avoiding a repeat of Grenfell. It’s designing good quality social housing that promotes good well being and values it’s users over the profits. Working excellently is encouraging clients to contribute to good public space, improving street safety and providing a place for communities to flourish.
What resource do you have? Can you make a non-financial exchange for someone’s life? What does excellent work look like for you?
Reality of Humanity
We desire social justice but sadly cannot see that 100% fulfilled. We are human. Humans make mistakes. I fail. There is grace and that grace should encourage us to try again. Try to selflessly use our generosity and caring capacity, to consider others in as many decisions as we possibly can.
You will make 35,000 decisions today. Let some of those be intentional decisions to give others a fair, full and free life. Aim to make more good decisions today.
Disclaimer: I’m far from many of these goals myself but I hope to try!
For more on social justice, click here.