Justice: Shared Compassion


The Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress

We wake today in the United States to another mass shooting on another school campus. We will wring our hands.  We will, some of us, call for laws to control guns. We will, some of us, chant the refrain that people kill people, guns don’t kill people.  Likely, we will then settle down until the next mass shooting takes place, in a school or a church.

We suffer from the absence of a public sense of compassion.  Social justice means that everyone receives what they need to survive and to thrive.  Students going to school, people going to church are not surviving and certainly not thriving when they are unexpectedly shot and killed by someone who has no business with a gun.  Social justice is an act of compassion which enables us to see in the other ourselves, see their suffering, and act to alleviate it.  We do not have an experience of that kind of compassion on a public level–for anything, much less the issue of guns in our society.

Recently I spent a day doing very important, difficult work with a room full of language teachers–work that will effect what and how teachers teach languages for years to come in our district.  There were in the room at least two very different sets of approaches to how students learn languages.  We could have had that fight.  There would have been metaphorical blood on the floor. Some would have walked away and left academic, emotional and relational carnage on the floor.  I’ve seen this happen too many times. That’s not what happened on this particular day.  As a group, we chose to keep our vision “large,” to create directions, standards and possibilities large enough so that both camps could continue to do not only what they do, but choose from the other camp’s repertoire, too.  At the end of the day, there were a few emotional bruises.  More importantly, there was no carnage, there was immense good will, and there was a feeling that we had done something together that would endure, something that would be good for all.

Owning a gun is not important to me.  I know and love people for whom it is.  We are in need of a public practice of compassion that allows us to take national action on the issue of guns that serves us all.  It seems to me that those for whom it is important to own guns working to create this large vision would be most important.  They have everything to lose. I have nothing to lose–except the deep grief I feel every time this happens.  Right now, if we do nothing publicly and as a citizenry, we know that it will happen again, and it will happen relatively soon.

In our relations with people today, how can we invite others–especially those who disagree with us–into a larger vision?  This just may be what social justice work looks like today–inviting ourselves into a larger vision.  Otherwise, we are just waiting for the next massacre.

Bob Patrick

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