The feeling of powerlessness has been a recurring theme in conversations in the past week or so. How can one person sort through the massive amounts of information and mis-information? How can one person effect change? How can we know, in our very busy lives, what is actually happening? And once we know, what then? The feeling of being overwhelmed and powerless is daunting. How do individuals make a difference? What does it mean to be active? How do we activate people to make change and is this even our right?
I have been thinking about this more and more as I reconnect with this part of myself. In some way, I have always been active. My sense of social injustice was lit early by teachers who were from the hippie genre, balanced by a side of nuns. Most of my teachers were young, socially minded individuals who taught at a Catholic school. They were missionaries who believed in saving the world. One video that stands out for me was shown in sixth grade by Sister Thomas ( I loved Sister Thomas). It was about a boy who envisioned himself doing all of these amazing acts. I vividly remember his one fantasy of standing in the dessert and feeding the poor (by the way, it is only now that I am realizing the innate racism in this since of course the poor were always people of color from a foreign country dressed in next to nothing.) Throughout the film, he has plenty of opportunities to share or make a small difference and he doesn't recognize them because they are not on a grand scale. At the end of the movie he does break up a fight. Whatever may not have stayed with me from my Catholic schooling, the ideas from this film and the strong prodding to go out and be a change in the world were planted deep in me.
Even as I grew up and began to question the Catholic church, my faith and what it meant to be a good person, the vestiges of my early experiences stayed with me. And the Categorical Imperative by Emmanual Kant became my road map or touchstone as I tried to make choices. I know some people - if anyone actually reads this - are nodding with a that totally makes sense sort of nod. It should help to explain my concrete black and white mentality when it comes to what I hold myself accountable for. In a nutshell, the Categorical Imperative states that you do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Not because you are trying to garner favor with God, or for the rewards you may receive. You make your choices based on an ethical stance, simply because it is right. Period. Later as an undergrad in a theology class I explored the difference between justice and charity. Justice is what is fair, and social justice is working to fix whatever is unfair. Charity is trying to supply immediate relief to the problem. It is not justice. This is an important distinction.
But as I grow older (just a tiny bit), I am beginning to pull away from these ideas, and rethink my philosophy on justice, activism and doing what it right. Social justice shouldn't be qualified as a subset of justice, to me it diminishes the reality of what justice is. Somehow "social justice" makes justice appear optional. Justice is; and the opposite is injustice. There can't be a social injustice that is somehow just. (Although we are constantly being told this in one form or another.) But I am also starting to really believe that justice can and will happen through small acts. It doesn't need to be on a grand sweeping scale. (Okay, I still fantasize about being able to make these huge amazing impacts. But lets face it that is more about vanity than justice.) I really think that the world can be changed with many, many people making small changes and different choices. The emphasis is necessary because you have to really believe it before you start making the decision. Otherwise, you will continue to think that "it doesn't really matter, it's just a small thing." One person dropping a can of food into a food drive box isn't going to feed the world. But most people dropping a can in could make a huge impact. But you need that one. All of the ones. One person going vegan won't end factory farms, many people choosing to not buy meat from their grocery store and instead buy from local farms will help to eliminate these horrors. But you need that one.
And here is another small piece of the puzzle. The environment, poverty, human rights, animal rights, all of these violations of humanity are interconnected. So when you make a small impact in one, however tiny, it is destined to cause a small ripple throughout all. Even if you can't see the ripple or the connection. Although, if you continue to inform yourself, read, search out information you will begin to see how small acts create great change. Over time. Become aware and you are becoming involved.
Finally, feeling overwhelmed, like guilt, is useless. There is power in choice and we always have a choice. Whether it is searching out food from local farmers, putting money in a collection bin for the poor, adding to a food drive, turning off the water when you brush your teeth. There are no contributions to the greater good that are too small. So make all the tiny, seemingly too tiny to matter, choices that you can. They matter. Celebrate yourself every time you make a great decision. The impact is greater than you think. And hold onto your other power. Hold onto your joy.