It’s tough for social justice workers to prioritize enjoyment.
Does this resonate for you? Maybe you have felt (or feel) as I have. For me, it went something like this: “How can I enjoy myself, my life, when there is so much suffering in the world?” And I could point to any one of a seemingly endless number of struggles currently being engaged in around the globe–and in my own backyard.
How can I enjoy my life when there is so much inequality, injustice, hurt and misery? How can I have fun when I know people who sometimes have trouble paying rent or putting food on the table? How can I have a good time when there are people living in refugee camps or under the constant threat of missiles or drone attacks?
I understand where those questions come from. At least for myself. I, perhaps like you, grew up believing that it was my responsibility to repair the world. For Jews, we call it “tikkun olam.” You may have your own version of it. For some Catholics, working for the rights of the poor and the downtrodden is a path to sainthood.
But for many of us, I think it goes beyond the religious paths that were laid out for us–to our own situation as young children growing up in a confused and justice-deprived world. Our parents were also confused and this confusion fell upon us, without any malintent on their part. In some ways, young ones see the world more clearly than the adults around them–adults who have been hurt by living in a society filled with oppressions of racism, classism, sexism. I remember thinking that I couldn’t understand “why” my parents couldn’t see the things I could see, or understand the things I understood.
Why, for example, did they “agree” with racism? Why was it OK with them that the Blacks or “Negroes” on the outskirts of our town lived in poverty-ridden shacks while we drove past them in our car to a suburban home? And when I first learned about war and the Shoah as a young one, similar questions came immediately to mind.
Now I have come to believe that there must be a middle ground. A place to live between constant emotional anguish and discomfort on the one hand and blind (blissful?) ignorance on the other. Between driving ourselves into the ground by fighting a never-ending battle as opposed to pretending that there are no battles to be fought.
I realize that I not only get to, but I need to enjoy this journey, this struggle, this life. To do anything less than that is to dishonor it. To diminish the blessing that is life. And to diminish the value of what I want for all humans everywhere.
So the new path that I hope to walk in my own journey, and yes within my family’s home, is to strive together with you to strive for social justice and a sustainable future for humans and the planet. To proudly show those efforts to my wife, daughter, friends and family.
But also to give thanks for the gift of life and for being a human being by enjoying it, by appreciating all that I have been given. And all that I receive in the days ahead.
Yes, even as there are struggles happening, I will commit to enjoying my life. Not in a way that says I am ignoring the struggles, but in a way that says what we are struggling for is worthy of the struggle. Life is that good, that worth fighting for and joining with others to support them in their fight as well!
How do you balance your efforts at making the world a better place with enjoyment of the world? Are there times when you find both these elements coincide? What have you learned along the way? What advice would you give to your younger self? (And would you take it?)