“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”
I have been on an embarrassingly long road toward doing real justice work.
The justice work that calls to me is the seemingly radical notion that all people are deserving of equal rights, treatment, pay, opportunity, respect, value, honor and love, no matter the person’s skin color, cultural or ethnic makeup, country of origin, religion, gender, sexuality or economic status.
This is the work I am compelled by my faith in Christ to do.
This is the work I am committed to; and I am doing it wrong at least half of the time.
Am I the right person for this job? No. Not really. But I show up and do it anyway. It is my job as a person of racial and economic privilege to use whatever power I have to make the world a safer and more just place.
Every week I allow myself to look stupid while I learn new components to justice work. What I mean is this: I do not run away after I have done/said a stupid thing. I apologize. I ask for forgiveness. I show up again.
I am not asking for applause or kudos here. I am not proud of myself right now. I am embarrassed that I cannot get enough of this right and oh, how I love to be right.
This is my admission that I am really terrible at justice work and I am going to do it anyway.
Just last week I made an observation out loud that lifted new blinders off my eyes. And I found myself blushing because I was embarrassed to be making this discovery only just now.
I was talking about racism and what I can do about racial justice work and I said to my friend, “My job is to give up my right to look right. I have to give up my self-preservation instinct that says ‘that’s not what I meant’ when I feel I’ve been misunderstood. It doesn’t matter what I meant. It matters how the people I think I am helping feel about my help.”
In that moment I felt like a hundred light switches turned on.
Friends, it’s embarrassing to make an easy discovery so late in the game.
It’s not that I didn’t know this. It’s that I didn’t practice it. My need to look good or right (or at least funny) sits in the back of my mind in nearly every situation in my life. Self-preservation is a tricky little thing. It overreacts. It tells us to fight back. It defends. And sometimes (a lot of the time) it is wrong.
I don’t need to be recognized for my work. I don’t need to wear a T-shirt that announces I am one of the “good ones.” I need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I need to be willing to be put in my place and to keep my mouth shut while it happens. I need to be willing to be misunderstood and to just let that be OK.
So, I am here to look stupid for the right thing. I am going to keep fighting for justice, but I am getting rid of my need to look good while I do it. Because, as Louis C.K. says, “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”