Trampled, worn down, falling apart. This New York City winter, a time of walking and wandering, of dryness and darkness, has left many things I cherish in a dire state and, at this point, I don’t know which is more threadbare: my outer soles or my inner soul.
I talk often of social justice, of wanting to live and be in solidarity with the marginalized, yet I complain and dread the one night a month I spend at the local homeless shelter. A little discomfort and change in my routine and suddenly I’m thinking, “What the hell did I sign up for?”
I’m angry because I can preach all the social justice buzzwords until I’m blue in the face but when push comes to shove I get crushed. I mean I have a degree in Peacebuilding and Development so I must know something about it, right? Wrong!
What if all my cries and protests for social justice are more about me than anything else? In some ways I don’t believe it’s wrong that my passion for social justice is about me in the sense that it’s what gives me hope and makes me tick. What scares me is doing this work out of some subconscious selfish motivation to feel better about myself through “helping” other people, as if they need my help!
The savior complex is a scary thing and I am well aware of this. I’ve seen far too many people get involved in social justice to save the world (and all too often, in my experience, this involves white, privileged Westerners trying to save everyone else. I can’t tell you how sick I am of all the money grabbing organizations pleading with people to “save the starving, HIV-ridden children in Africa,” as if the whole continent is summed up in a few pictures, as if we in America have all the solutions to the world’s problems. Hell, we can’t even take care of our own problems! But I digress.).
Some of my worst fears are getting caught up in what I’m doing and not the broader social justice picture and not living what I believe and speak. What if I can’t do this work of social justice and peacebuilding? What if I am too weak or lazy or selfish? I don’t have all the answers (or any answers at this point) but I have to believe that there is a reason my heart beats to the drum of social justice. I just know that I can’t be a lone drummer out here on my own; I need to make this music with others.
One of the worst injustices I could take part in is to talk about the marginalized but not have the strength or will to step into their shoes. Until I can fit my soul into their soles, until I can stop using words like “their” and “them,” and until I can figure out how to break through the walls that hold me back, I will be nothing more than a talking head. If this is to be my life’s work then it must be more than work and bigger than me. It must be a lifelong journey of sole searching.