Adapting Life Rhythms for Compassionate Justice
Words like “compassion” and “justice” are becoming commonplace in our cultural landscape. Whether you’re an individual, organization, school or business, embedding this kind of language has proven to be beneficial for one’s personal or corporate brand. Many people feel “good” whenever they commit to a cause on Facebook or retweet something on Twitter in regards to compassion or justice.
In light of this growing trend towards compassion and justice, I think we must ask ourselves, “Do we actually participate in social action beyond the initial “join” or retweet?” In hopes of answering this question, I informally surveyed friends of mine on Facebook that have committed to multiple causes. The vast majority of them have not financially given nor volunteered for anything related to “their cause”. Granted, many people join causes out of courtesy towards the friend who invited them. Nevertheless, there still appears to be a clear disconnect between good intention and actual practice.
This is not to say that the above-mentioned activities are not helpful. In fact, awareness is indeed a great place to start. Unfortunately, for many, awareness is no longer just the beginning, but also, the end of social action. Our friends around the world experiencing some of the greatest injustices of our time still wait for our willingness to move beyond awareness and into action. To this end, I would like to offer some of the following perspectives:
FORMING VIRTUES WITH INTENTIONAL PRACTICE
Virtue is a reference to the conformity of one’s life and conduct towards moral and ethical principles. Therefore, anyone desiring to embody the virtues of compassion and justice must take intentional steps towards adapting their day-to-day life rhythms. Virtues don’t just form because we have a heart for it. Much like other noble pursuits in life, it requires time, sacrificial commitment, and practice. Yes, it may even feel mechanistic at the beginning.
Just as a great musician tirelessly continues to practice his/her scales, those desiring to care for humanity must intentionally practice their passion. Compassionate justice must not be relegated to events, campaigns, or vicarious living. It must be lived out. Whether an act is small or large is beside the point. In fact, the fruit of compassion is not even the point. Mother Teresa rightly said, “The success of loving is in the loving — it is not the result of loving.” In other words, the act itself takes primacy over our thoughts before or the fruit afterwards.
TWO BAD REASONS FOR INACTIVITY: NEED FOR AUTHENTICITY & LACK OF KNOWLEDGE
There are two common reasons that I hear as it relates to a person’s inactivity in areas of compassion and justice. The first one has to do with authenticity. Some are hesitant to show compassion unless they feel that they are fully sincere in their act of care. I think this is a tragedy that has led to innumerable missed opportunities for care.
Although it may appear to be honorable to balance heart with action, I think it’s actually one of the greatest expressions of narcissism. In this scenario, the giver redirects the center of the act from God’s care for the person to oneself. This is both presumptuous and arrogant. The truth of the matter is that all acts of compassion are ultimately divine expressions of God’s love for humanity. It has very little to do with our authentic motive.
Is authentic motive important? Absolutely. It’s even desirable. Nevertheless, authenticity is not an essential criterion for an act of compassion to be good in God’s eye. History has shown us that God still uses tainted and hypocritical people to accomplish his will. In addition, can any human being really do anything with a 100% pure motive? Highly unlikely.
Another common reason for inactivity I hear has to do with one’s lack of knowledge on what to do in regards to an injustice. Many of the issues of injustice appear to be so grand and complex that many feel a deep sense of paralysis and lostness. I think all of us can relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed when confronted with the reality of an injustice. There are no easy ways around this feeling. Nevertheless, we must believe that paralysis due to a lack of knowledge is not the answer.
I’ve learned through participating in numerous organizations and humanitarian efforts that knowledge is often found once we’re in motion. In other words, we don’t need all of the answers to these complex issues prior to moving. Knowledge, and more importantly wisdom, is found along the way. Our new experiences while working in compassionate justice will give us a healthy frame for learning and finding solutions.
My encouragement and challenge to us is that we would all just start somewhere. There are so many great organizations doing wonderful work around the world. Pick one. There are so many people in our own cities that could use human contact and care. Touch one. God desires to incarnate his love for the world through people who are committed to compassionate justice. Be one.
Consider some of the following practical ideas for altering life rhythms for compassionate justice:
- Live with less to give more. During these difficult economic times, my wife and I felt that it was imperative for us to cut unnecessary expenditures and activities. One of our main reasons for this was so that we could stay generous in our giving of time and resources towards good works. When downsizing is coupled with a goal of compassionate justice, it provides a great context for mission.
- Acknowledge People. It’s amazing how our lack of eye-to-eye contact can begin to dehumanize one another. We no longer function as souls interacting but as machines and fixtures. Take effort to look into peoples’ eyes. The person serving you coffee is an actual human being and not a means to a service. The homeless person you walk by is deeply cared for by God and not a street fixture. Let’s not make people invisible.
- Integrate vocation with compassion. Take some time to consider how what you do professionally can bring relief and care for people experiencing injustices around the world. Challenge your company or school to care for the world through tangible acts of compassion.
May the world become a better place because we chose to participate in God’s story of love by adapting our life rhythms.