Notes on Not Saving the World


This post is part of a synchroblog on Social Justice. There is a link list for the other contributions at the end of this post.

Different Starting Places

The pursuit of social justice is more than a feel good motivation for well-meaning people. It is a reflection of the fact that we all do not face life with the same advantages.

Some kids get a great education. Others have only a mediocre school available in their community and are unable to afford college. Some children have wonderful, involved parents. Others don’t know who their daddy is. Some were taught great values about hard work and money management. Others were raised by parents who never learned those values for themselves. Some grew up in lovely neighborhoods. Others were fearful of being shot or beaten as they walked home from school. Some employees enjoy the possibility of advancement and improvement. Others are locked into a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty, even if they work hard. In some situations, something so out of your control as your gender, skin color, or age, is sadly, still an instantaneous disadvantage.

I know there has always been a strong contingency in our country that highlights the abuses of assistance programs. They glibly complain about the laziness of the recipients while proclaiming the greatness of an America where anybody can make a good living and enjoy a comfortable life.

That America is a fantasy and that perspective is an easy way to ignore complex societal issues by simply turning a blind eye, stereotyping people, and embracing a sound byte as a personal philosophy.  It is neat and tidy and contains just enough truth to misapply to all situations and all individuals.

Clumsy Assistance Programs

While we need to address inequality in America and around the world, it has often been done so poorly that those involved have become hardened toward the very people they were trying to help. I have been deeply involved with charities, a pregnancy center, a food pantry, various kinds of faith-based services, and a community coalition. Honestly, most of those efforts left me very disillusioned. Here are some of the things I discovered through my involvement.

  • There is natural tendency for recipients to take unfair advantage of hand-out programs and that causes the workers to become hardened and weary of their clients.
  • There is more of a focus on the program than the individual, resulting in a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores the dignity of the individual, the uniqueness of her circumstances, and the importance of her personal involvement in improving her own circumstances.
  • People involved in their community, don’t see it as it really is. That results in efforts run by groups of people that do not represent the ethnicity of the community, dealing with peripheral issues while the more serious matters are ignored. (I wonder if this was unique to my experience or if it is, indeed, a common characteristic.)

What To Do

There is serious social injustice in the world. Program-oriented assistance programs don’t work very well. So, how to we confront injustice?

There are an infinite number of ways. We just need to find those that fit our personality and abilities. Here are a few things that I use to guide me.

  • Don’t try to save the world. Just help your neighbor. Look for the opportunities in your world to help people you know and encounter, rather than leapfrogging over them to “save the world.” At least, begin there.
  • Go deep and get messy. Some people are trying to work the system. Go deep with those who are willing to be part of their own solution. Help them establish and achieve their own goals. If you are involved with people who are outside of your normal sphere of relationships, don’t treat them like clients; get to know them. Fight for them if you have to. As the legal guardian for my disabled brother, I have had to roll up my sleeves and do battle with companies that tried to rip him off for things he did not order and others who denied him benefits he had earned.
  • Become a troublemaker. Victims of social injustice are largely invisible to rest of us. We like it that way. Change that. Talk about it. Write about it. Shine a light on the injustice. Destroy the stereotypes and caricatures. Create a new awareness.

Bottom Line

We can’t save the world, but, every now and then, we can help a willing person who needs a hand; and that is a great honor.


Social Justice Link List 

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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  3. Glenn- These are excellent thoughts on social justice. I don’t know what it says about me but I was especially to your suggestion to be a troublemaker!

    “Become a troublemaker. Victims of social injustice are largely invisible to rest of us. We like it that way. Change that! Talk about it. Write about it. Shine a light on the injustice. Destroy the stereotypes and caricatures. Create a new awareness.”

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