Just Thinking about Justice: Humility is the Best Policy

When it comes to justice issues, activists, theorists and policy makers living in the moment often charge where angels fear to tread and newcomers to the issues waffle in confusion. The newbies like myself can easily feel like they are drowning in the depths of the complexities surrounding the issues in question. What should they (we) do? Wait for handouts, where the experts on the issues give them basic meat and potato food for thought?

Newbies should be humble enough to ask questions about what they don’t know rather than erroneously claim that they have it all figured out or refuse to ask open questions because they don’t want to be humbled. They will only further injustice. What is really detrimental is when people engaged in justice concerns come across acting as if they know when they don’t know rationally or experientially.

Newbies should also learn to think through where they have gaps in thinking and experience about the justice issues before them, and why. Identifying blind spots is very helpful. Still, so often those of us who are newbies don’t even know enough to ask questions. So, there may be times when we need to ask people in the know to let us know what they think we don’t know and why: the answers to the why question might possibly arise from the community in which one has been inculcated: perhaps that community has not addressed the issues at hand, or has been involved with advancing directly or indirectly the injustices that gave rise to the justice concern in the first place.

Lastly, it is important to do research. Rather than expecting others to do the work for them, newbies to justice issues should ask people more knowledgeable about a pressing justice issue for resources that they would recommend. They should also listen to different perspectives so as not to be driven by ideology, but rather by goals geared toward comprehensive education and reform on the subject at hand. Those doing research should not simply ask for information but also perspectives based on people’s experiences. All our talk of objectivity on matters of justice research often clouds our insecurities and veiled forms of subjectivity that betray how insulated we really are. Perhaps nowhere has this problem been more acute than among white men like me, who often put on airs that we have it together and don’t need anyone’s help-especially people of minority perspectives and seemingly less elevated status in society. To the extent this is true, it just goes to show that we need to ask questions and listen more than anyone.

In all these things, the posture we take is all-important. I have often played the fool because I did not know what to do or where to go to address justice concerns. But I would rather be humbled by asking for help than by hurting and shaming others and myself by claiming to have it all together when I don’t. If we are to think justly about justice, we need to pursue equity by favoring humility in solidarity with others. So, will we go forward together? Will you help me?

An example of the kind of thinking and activity that is envisioned in this post is displayed in my church’s (Irvington Covenant Church) Intergroup Dialogue on Race and Reconciliation. Here is one short video dealing with this work. Longer videos will be posted in coming days.

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

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