Justice for all?

7 Feb

Sometimes I think I am the last person in the world who should ever be a social worker. I’m rather unsympathetic to many plights that I know I should find empathy for – if my professors knew exactly how many times I roll my eyes behind my notebook when I hear them wax poetic about certain injustices that occurs here in the States, they would probably kick me out of the program. It’s not that I’m a complete jerk. It’s just, I’ve stared at beautiful, precious babies with almost-translucent skin literally dying in their crowded cribs. It’s really hard for me to feel sorry for people who got themselves into the situation they’re in because of their own choices when there are babies with no choices at all left to die around the world – through both abortion and abandonment.

And you know what that attitude is?

Sin.

I do not at all pretend to be better than the populations I am or will be working with. In fact, I’m in the same demographics as most of them, financially and situationally. But why should I expect Almighty God, the Blessed Virgin, and all the Saints to plead my cause if I can’t find the same measure of love and compassion for the alcoholic who drowned his family’s finances away as I do the babies left at the mouth of a coal miner’s cave, like my precious sister Aeren? I’m not trying to strip culpability from situations where there is plenty to go around. And I’m not even going to attempt to argue that even the direst case of poverty in America is remotely the same as the dying rooms in Chinese orphanages. But at the end of the day they are people created in God’s image, whether they seek Him or not, and they are people that are hurting. It isn’t my place to play judge and pick and choose whom I shine Christ’s light too. It’s not mine to give in the first place.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.

God, let that be me.

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9 Responses to “Justice for all?”

  1. Kimberlie February 8, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Sweet friend, I am guilty of the same attitude sometimes. I think “oh just suck it up.” Not a very loving or Christ-like attitude. I will say this though, God gives each of us, who are willing to ask “Lord, break my heart for what breaks your heart” a different call. Some of us, like you and me, our hearts can rend in two for the orphan, for the child who has no one to advocate for them, for the injustice of a world who says “you are nothing.” I have had to remember that God’s heart breaks for the poor, those who suffer from HIV/AIDS, those whose lives are controlled by addiction, and for those who just simply don’t care, and He has raised up people whose hearts break for them. It’s just not you or me. Just try to remember it might be your professors, or your fellow classmates.

    Hugs! It looks as though we are going to get “Snowmagedon Part II” so I probably won’t see you at RCIA this week. Stay safe and warm!

  2. Tienne McKenzie February 8, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    As someone who has worked in the field of social services, I can say in all honesty that your attitude is not all bad. I fully understand what you’re saying in your post, and yes, I would encourage you to cultivate as much compassion as God will grant you, HOWEVER…there is far too much enabling going on in the world of social services, particularly in this country. There is room for those who look at someone with an addiction or in an abusive relationship and say, with love, “This problem is of your own making, and you have a responsibility to yourself and those around you to solve it.”

    In fact, I think that kind of attitude is far more helpful than the more common, Victorian-style compassion which equates those in poverty or difficult circumstances with children who have to be tightly controlled “for their own good.” There IS a vast difference between a family in a refugee camp in East Africa who have been chased off their land by armed soldiers, and a poor family coming into the food bank because mom spends all her money on gambling or drugs.

    If you can treat them with compassion while holding them to a standard that demands good choices, you’ll be farther along than most!

  3. Blueberries For Me February 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    Great post.
    I work with homeless people, and the “well they deserve it” or “it’s their own fault for getting themselves in this mess” or “they should just be grateful” attitude really gets my goat.

    We like to play up the idea of choice. Yeah, we all have free will, that’s not what I’m getting at. We don’t always have as much room to make choices as we think we do.
    I can’t really look at a client and think, “well, geez, if she had just had a stable home life where education was encouraged and under age drinking was prohibited, and had her parents pay for a college degree, and model a loving relationship so she would know how to pick a good husband like I did, then she wouldn’t be in this mess. It’s her fault, really.”

    In social services we like to look at people and say, “well how did you get yourself into this mess? what are you going to do to get out of it?” Christ never treated people like that. I’m not saying we shouldn’t encourage people to take responsibility, or empower people to make their own choices. But I think we have to look at what kind of world we are making for other people. Not everyone is starting out equally. Things like drug use, domestic abuse, homelessness – those all tend to be generational.
    I’ve worked in Haiti a bit and like I said, with homeless people here. It is easy to say that the conditions of a orphanage in Haiti are much worse than the homeless shelter I work at. But its not easy to quantify people’s suffering. I know so many people who have been to hell and back. I’ve had grown men cry to me about how they’ve been beaten up for being a “worthless bum”, been robbed, been spit on. I had a client rob a bank so that he would get “three hots and a cot.” Sure that was his “choice,” but I think the bigger problem was that he didn’t have the “choice” to go to a nursing home (our shelter only lets people stay for 30 days and he couldn’t afford a nursing home even though he was in his 70s).

    It’s easy to look at people and say that they made poor choices, and therefore they are sinners. But a lot of people are limited in the choices they make, either through resources, education, addiction, etc. A lot of countries look down on their poor and judge them, and we as Americans are more than happy to step in and say “no! It’s not their fault they are poor! They still deserve better! We’ll help!” but its so much easier to judge our own poor.

    (stepping off my high horse).

    As a social worker, you will have to make judgments and help people figure out why certain actions (both theirs and others) caused them to land where they are today. But as a Christian, we can’t judge people for those actions. It’s a fine line to walk, and I admire you for taking up that challenge!

  4. Allison Welch February 8, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    great post.

  5. The Ogre February 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    While I’ll not dispute your insight — you should strive to be Christ-like in the way you comport yourself with others — keep in mind that the general sense of the best way to do that is not necessarily the best sense of the best way to do that.

    We live in a society that, having noticed the evils that CAN be committed while angry, has decided that anger itself is evil. The logic of that is faulty on the most basic level. Christ Himself was angry a number of times: sometimes at people, sometimes at their actions. He never stopped loving them, and indeed, if we take what we know of Christ to be true, then the logical conclusion is that in those instances Christ loved those people most fully (since His love is and was always full) BY being angry. That ought to give people pause, and then, hopefully, make them reflect on what they think love is.

    You say that “It isn’t my place to play judge and pick and choose whom I shine Christ’s light too,” and I agree with the second half of your statement. It is not your place to decide to whom you should or should not give what is, in the end, not yours. However, that doesn’t mean that you should not judge. “Judge not, lest ye be judged”: that is a passage which could, particularly given the context of the passage, be more aptly rendered “condemn not,” that is, do not take upon yourself the role of FINAL arbiter, for that is God’s role, and His alone. But that is not the same as “judge not,” for judgment is an intellectual activity that is, in the end, God-given (and He gives us nothing He doesn’t intend us to use). You have to judge. You have to look at someone and be able to say, “what you are doing is good” or “what you are doing is bad.” That is not the same thing as saying “you are good” or “you are bad,” though there is justifiably an element of that in there. Doing that, though, should never stop you from saying AT THE SAME TIME “God made you in His image and therefore you are worthy of my love, no less than His.”

    In the end, be angry at the alcoholic. Be able to say, “you are willingly destroying yourself, and with you all the good that God made possible in and through you, and, like Christ with the money-changers in the temple, that makes me *&^#$)@ angry!” And then demonstrate Christ’s love and find the best way to help whomever it is you are angry with.

    Another way to see this, and I’ll end here, is that the exponential proliferation of addiction, crime, and general immorality in our culture is a direct result of the unwillingness to say “this is wrong.” That is, if something isn’t wrong, why should we avoid it? Nothing today is wrong (except, of course, judging others!!), so people do whatever they want. The ability to judge is exactly what our culture needs, particularly from social workers.

    • Blueberries For Me February 13, 2011 at 11:01 am #

      I disagree. As someone who works in social services and studies these issues in grad school, I think it is an oversimplification to say that the problems in our society today are an unwillingness to say “this is wrong.” The alcoholics I work with do not simply not understand their behavior is “wrong,” they have an inability to control it. The reasons for their alcoholism are much deeper than a desire to misbehave, rather are often seated in a history of PTSD, childhood abuse, mental illness. Very few, very very few, are acting willfully. Perhaps alcohol isn’t the coping mechanism you or I would have chosen to deal with these issues, but once someone has become an alcoholic they need physical and mental treatment. Trust me, anger has been tried. Their families have yelled at them angrily, they have been cast out of society for being “unwilling to clean up their own mess”, rejected, suffered more abuse. People need compassion, not anger.
      I’m not saying we should accept sin. But I do believe that “sin” is much more complicated than it appears on the surface. It’s easy to assume the alcoholic or drug addict is a sinner for becoming an alcoholic, but if we don’t know the reasons behind his or her journey, we can’t judge. They woke up one morning and willingly decided to throw their life away and start binge drinking? Okay, not so good. Their parents put whisky in their baby bottle because they didn’t know how to make the kid stop crying? Maybe for that person, their alcoholism isn’t a sin. Maybe we can’t say they are “willingly destroying theirself.”
      We can show compassion without judging first. You suggest we aren’t willing to say “this is wrong,” and therefore if something isn’t wrong, why should we avoid it. Alcohol is not a good coping mechanism. People should avoid it because it does not help their problems. That doesn’t mean that we need to be angry and judge the alcoholic. It is okay to judge actions, choices, to say “maybe therapy would work better for you.” But we do not need to become angry at the person. We do not need to judge them. It is not necessary to do social work.

      • The Ogre February 14, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

        Blueberries,

        Two things.

        One, as a former addict, I can tell you univocally that you misunderstand addiction. Badly.

        And two, you also misunderstand my point about judging. You start your reply by saying “I disagree.” What are you doing except levying a judgment at my position. You have a choice between agreeing with me and disagreeing with me, and you have judged the latter to be… more correct, better, indicative of a greater good… you pick. In any case, you have judged. This argument is not, ultimately, worth the anger I speak to above. There are, however, some instances in which anger is warranted. For example: you park your car in a parking lot and get out only to find yourself face to face with a man punching his eight year old in the face. Do you calmly and “non-judgmentally” tell him that there are better outlets for his anger? I certainly hope not. You judge his action and, upon arriving at the self-evident conclusion, tell the man to back the *%#@ away from the child.

        The fact that in other instances the damage being done is less evident or, dare I say, more culturally acceptable, does not mean that those instances are less deserving of anger. Each situation should be judged according to its own merits.

        Nor is this to say that the proper response is to berate and verbally attack someone (though in the above instance I think that would be a more tame response than the situation warrants); I, at least, can be angry and calm and rational all at the same time. My point to Kassie is, in the end, fairly simple: the anger she feels is not intrinsically or inherently wrong. When it is due to some affront she feels to herself, it is likely selfishly motivated and thus wrong. When it is due to an affront to human dignity (the person’s or someone else’s), that is, addiction, abortion, abuse, etc… that anger is justified and she should not feel guilty about feeling angry.

  6. The Ogre February 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    **nor about the act of judgment at the root of that anger.

    • Jackie February 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Thank you for your response.

      1) I think we are essentially saying the same thing. It is okay to judge an action, but not the person. In my reading of your first response I thought you were saying it is okay to judge people.
      2) Just as I should not have assumed that you haven’t had personal experience with addiction, please don’t assume I have not either. It is something that has destroyed my mother’s family.

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