02 November 2006

A Summary of My Philosophy of Social Justice

By Don Berg,

Co-chair, Social Action & Education Committee, QUUF

The result of our work is enthusiastic people living passionate lives in a joyful society.

We achieve that result through supporting our congregation to practice the four parallel processes of social justice work; service, education, action and witness. We evaluate activities that are presented for our sponsorship or support according to how they will contribute to both the ultimate result and to our congregation’s ability to improve their commitment to social justice work.

Enthusiastic people have the knowledge, skills, and information necessary to navigate back to optimal states of mind when they are lost. Optimal states of mind are defined by a combination of six qualities that have been drawn from research into optimal experience (primarily Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work), happiness, and intrinsic motivation. The six qualities of mind are agency, optimism, purpose, cooperation, cognitive order and cognitive complexity.

Passionate lives are guided by a balance of personal interests and the needs of the moral context in which that person is embedded and society provides abundant support for everyone to continuously discover and rediscover that balance. The moral context takes into account the five primary levels of our human scale of impact on each other; cells, individuals, groups, societies and life on earth.

A joyful society provides consistent access to optimal states of mind and provides appropriate interventions to assist anyone who loses, or is unable to, achieve optimal states of mind.

Service is the opportunity to directly meet human needs. There are three distinct categories of human needs:

1.our structural needs for air, water, security, food, shelter, and belonging;

2.our pattern needs which develop over time, as described by Piaget, Maslow, Graves, Cowen and Beck; and

3.our process needs for identity, understanding, freedom, participation, idleness, creation, affection and protection, which were described by Manfred Max-Neef (his category of subsistence is what I call structural needs).

Education is our inquiry into understanding our world and our place in it. Education is our training ground for becoming adept at accessing optimal states of mind through ever more and varied ways. Every discipline, field of study, form of intelligence, and formal practice is a vast hallway with abundant opportunities to reach optimal states of mind. Behind every door is a library of stories that tell us about our world and how we fit into it.

Action is how we build a sense of belonging to a caring community at the transpersonal levels of our moral context: the communal, societal and ecological. Through coordinated action we continuously improve the games that society provides for us to play. Through action we try to make the games we play fair and the playing fields level. Action is not about winning or losing, it’s about making all the games engaging and worthwhile.

Witness has two distinct traditional meanings and both are crucially important. In the Christian tradition it means to bear witness. For example the charismatic preacher asks, “Do I have a witness?” looking for his audience to validate the truth of an example or point he is making. Another example is when someone observes events of the world so that they will be known, i.e., in the Quaker and other pacifist traditions of being present to oppression, violence and the brutality of the powerful over the powerless. In these Christian traditions witness is a social act of affirming the truth of what is spoken or giving voice to those who do not have one.

In the Buddhist tradition witness is about achieving a state of mind in which we can perceive the events of the world without being a victim to the meanings that we habitually attach to those events. In our innate, naïve habit of constantly monitoring the world for dangers and opportunities we do not observe the world, instead we persistently judge and interpret events without being aware of how that constant practice can cause us to delude ourselves about what is really happening. In the Buddhist meditative traditions they develop a different habit of mind that allows for participation in and observation of events without the emotional and psychological attachment that normally occurs. The ideal of this form of witness is to be fully engaged with the world from the vantage point of observing ourselves and the world in a whirling waltz around our awareness.

The two ways of looking at the process of witnessing are both vitally important to achieving the desired outcome. We must develop both the personal ability to observe the truth without decieving ourselves and the ability to share our truth and affirm the sharing of others who speak the truth from their perspective. In this understanding of witness, then, we are not only charged with the call to observe in the world, but to observe in ourselves, as well. Therefore, this is a call to seek the artist as well as the activist, since both have uniquely honed abilities to observe the world in ways that are shaped by uncommon discipline.

Postscript: I have expanded on this piece on my web site School Of Conscience.org.
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