In the previous two parts of this series I provided the definition of social and environmental justice. When we understand that God is love and that we are created in Gods image, we do justice by loving others. I also shared how justice begins as an everyday liturgy that we incorporate into the small acts of our day-to-day lives.
Julie Clawson begins her book, Everyday Justice, by explaining that she’s often felt “overwhelmed at the sheer immensity” of injustices around the world. “There is too much hurt out there, too much that needs to change, and too much to tackle all at once.”¹ Hearing about all the injustices around the world can often lead to immobilizing emotions like fear, hopelessness, despair, or even apathy. These emotions often lead us to avoid rather than approach the problem. However, Clawson encourages us not to panic and to begin to face issues of injustice one step at a time. So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve incorporated justice into my day-to-day life by treating it like a liturgy. I began by asking myself what small steps I could take to better love God and other people. For me, change required three steps:
1. Increasing my awareness of social justice issues
2. Evaluating my attitude towards making changes
3. Implementing changes
It is very difficult to make changes without first cultivating an awareness of what needs to change. My process of change began by reading a number of books. For a close friend of mine it began by watching Netflix documentaries. Resources for learning more about social justice are plentiful. Whether it be through books, media, friends, or the internet, the first step is to take our heads out of the sand and learn something new about the injustices around the world. Given my true love of cooking (#KirstynsKitchen), my journey began by learning more about the food I buy. A year ago, I had no idea that many of the ingredients I take for granted are made by people around the world who do not earn enough money to provide for their basic needs like shelter, food, health care, and education. Chocolate, coffee, tea, sugar, nuts, oil, rice. The list goes on. Moreover, the production of these ingredients often involves child slavery, human trafficking and unsafe working conditions. Movements such as Fair Trade, UTZ, and Rainforest Alliance are taking steps to provide a living wage for labourers, create safe working conditions, and eliminate social and environmental injustices.
One of the biggest roadblocks to change is our attitude toward change. Are any of the following familiar thoughts to you?
I’m too busy to learn about social justice.
Social justice is inconvenient.
I’m already donating money to a good cause.
I’m just one person, I can’t make a difference.
Social justice is too expensive.
I will focus on social justice when the other stressors in my life calm down.
All of these thoughts have passed through my mind. For a long time, these thoughts prevented me from making any change in my behaviour. Honestly, these thoughts still crop up now and again even after starting my justice journey. Why? As a general rule, people do not like change because change is hard. This is particularly true as we age or when other stressors are present. We value comfort, convenience, and routine. Resistance to the unfamiliar is a worldwide human condition. We are wired to avoid things that feel strange or uncomfortable. Moreover, our desire for easy, convenient living is exacerbated by living in a privileged first-world country.
Unfortunately, our need for convenience and familiarity is often at the expense of the humane treatment of others around the world and the health of the planet. If you ask me, convenience is not worth that price. Change, albeit uncomfortable, is possible. I would even argue that developing flexibility to change can increase your overall well-being and resiliency. From a biblical perspective, idolizing our convenience over the well-being of other people is self-serving. Being self-serving is inconsistent with our loving God, who calls us to love others. Friends, I encourage you to evaluate the ways in which your attitudes are influencing your decisions about social and environmental justice.
Spoiler alert. Making changes will requires us to be inconvenienced. To sacrifice something. To become less selfish. To change up your routine. The first step is often the hardest. Not because social and environmental justice is inconvenient, but because making a change is uncomfortable. Even for little everyday matters. To be honest, all of the justice-related changes I have made over the past few months have been relatively straight-forward. Were they difficult? No. Did they radically change my day-to-day routine? No. Was I inconvenienced? Perhaps at first. My point is not to sell you into a life of social and environmental justice by telling you that it does not require that much sacrifice. Because it does. But, as your attitude begins to change towards justice through making those initial changes, I bet that what feels inconvenient right now will begin to feel less and less so. Justice turns our focus away from ourselves and towards others, making our own inconvenience less and less important.
Don’t know where to start? Begin with something small and practical that truly impacts your everyday life and build slowly from there. Beginning with something that truly matters to you will increase your motivation to change. Beginning with something small will ensure that you come out of the experience feeling encouraged rather than disheartened, increasing the likelihood that you continue to make changes. If you’re a parent, begin by considering the environmental impact of the different baby products you buy. If you can’t go a morning without caffeine, consider a Fair Trade coffee or bringing a reusable travel mug with you to the coffee shop. If you love fashion, consider buying an item of clothing made in an environmentally and socially friendly manner.
I started my social justice journey by increasing the amount of Fair Trade and UTZ chocolate that I bring into my home (e.g., chocolate bars, chocolate chips, cocoa, hot chocolate powder). Fair Trade chocolate can be found at (some) grocery stores or online (e.g., No Frills, Farm Boy, Ten Thousand Villages, amazon.ca). Buying Fair Trade chocolate has required us to consume less overall chocolate at home given the increased cost of these items. However, this is a small price to pay compared to the blood, sweat, and tears of people harvesting cocoa around the world.
I have since moved beyond chocolate by making small changes to the way I buy and store food. This has all boiled down to reducing our waste. We use reusable grocery bags and produce bags. We store our food in tupperware or reusable beeswax wrap. We have reusable travel mugs and water bottles. When James and I eat out at restaurants, I often save any leftover napkins, plastic cutlery that the shop will likely throw in the garbage. I’ve also asked the waiter to not bring us straws with our drinks.
I’ve also started considering introducing more meatless meals into my weekly meal roster, or buying organic from time to time. What do meat or nonorganic produce have to do with justice, you ask? Well, let’s take the example of beef. It takes an inordinate amount of energy (e.g., gasoline) and resources (e.g., water) to make a hamburger. The proportion of resources used to produce 1 hamburger well outweighs the actual weight of meat provided. In other words, eating a hamburger has a large environmental footprint. Inorganic food, particularly buying produce out-of-season, also requires that this food be transported to us from distant lands. And yet, we still buy these produce at rock-bottom prices. Somewhere along the line, someone is taking a pay-cut to get those fruits and veggies to us. And it’s usually the farmers, bringing us back to situations of unfair living wages and oppression.
The point here is that the options for everyday justice are truly endless. Be encouraged by that rather than overwhelmed. Learn something new. Check your attitudes. Be brave and creative. Try something new. And see what happens. I dare you.
Thank you for following along on my journey of social and environmental justice. I hope that I have inspired you to learn more or to make a small change. Our small acts matter. We can make a difference.