Social Justice – it is a big, noble concept, isn’t it? Social justice is the domain of those selfless warriors, the idealists, the Mark Heywood’s and Section 27’s of this world. Social justice is the responsibility and realm of the policy makers and politicians – and it enrages us when we feel that they do not recognise the importance of their decision making and their actions, and the ramifications that these have for the poor, the vulnerable and the voiceless.
Well – no, not really – or at the very least not only. Social justice is what happens at the level of the ordinary individual too. It is the way that, as ordinary individuals, we choose our level of awareness, of personal accountability, and of empathy, backed by action, in our day-to-day living. I am not suggesting that we all need to become avid social activists, participate in marches against GBV, corruption, human trafficking, and the like. No – your attitude to social justice shows itself when you choose to pay a fair wage to your employees, whether they be a domestic worker, an intern, or a PA. It appears when you open your eyes and your heart to the destitute street child you see on your daily drive in to work, and you choose to go beyond the guilty R5 coin and perhaps an apple, and stop to consider his story, his why, and perhaps even take the time to look him squarely in the eyes with a heart to see past his social status and ask his name.
Social justice happens the moment you choose to stop your car and bear witness, bring your knowledge and understanding of how justice and compensation can best be served, when a pedestrian is knocked down in an attempted hit and run. It is how you treat and tip your waiter, how you smile and greet the shop teller. It is how you step into the courage to voice your discomfort when your CEO makes an unethical or extractive decision that will cause harm to others.
Social justice manifests within you when you contribute to a feeding programme for our country’s poorest – whether it is through your local soup kitchen or a donation to Solidarity. It occurs when you choose to support a child who might otherwise be unable to, to complete their education, rather than buy a luxury item for your home. And it happens when you enable these opportunities for consciousness and generosity for others too.
You see, in the past few decades, we have started to rediscover and understand that social networks and social fabric matter; that the compact we have with each other as humanity matters. This means that the behaviour of even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant of the component nodes in our human networks matter – more than that, they can have a remarkable influence on the behaviour of the wider social network.
Social justice does not “happen” or “get done”- it is practiced. And for it to become evident and have life breathed into it in the everyday, it requires all of us to live out its principles – where we are, and in the moment.
And so – if we want to see a fair, just, kind, and courageous society, each of us needs to play our part in enacting social justice. This is not “someone else’s” job – it is all of ours. Practice kindness. Recognise your connection to your fellow humans – it is far, far closer than you think. Practice humanity, justice, integrity, generosity – not only in the big things, but in the smaller things too. You may well find that it is the smallest things that, at the end of the day, matter most. When we start to practice in the small spaces, we grow our awareness, our courage and our voice for all of the other spaces that we encounter too….
“Justice is the concept or fairness. Social justice is fairness as it manifests in society. That includes fairness in healthcare, employment, social housing and more. Discrimination and social justice are not compatible. “
For a highly readable book on social networks and their impact on our society, why our behaviour matters, and the dynamics of influence, read Connected by Nicholas Christakis MD, hPhD and James Fowler, PhD