After the recent election - divisions in our country laid bare - justice seemed to turn into an us vs. them issue. There was a sudden assumption that whether or not you cared about social justice could be determined by your political alignment. However, we know a few things to be true: 1) justice is a strong value of active citizenship, 2) anyone can be an active citizen, and 3) active citizenship means prioritizing your community. Is there a disconnect between who sees themselves fitting within the bounds of active citizenship and the conversations surrounding justice? If so, how do we bridge those gaps?
With social justice education, we’re taught that introspection, personal identity development, and active work are critically important. Before taking the step to enter into conversations across difference, we must consider not only what our values and beliefs are, but where they come from and why they’re important to us.
Who we are, what we believe, and what we know to be true is influenced and enforced by everything around us - from the people who raised us, to the neighborhood we grew up in, to the media we consumed. Name almost anything, and it has likely contributed to shaping who we are today. To put it in more formal terms - this is how our frame of reference is built and our identity is developed. This occurs, in part, through the Cycle of Socialization.
If we were to take a handful of people, it’s impossible that two of them would have had the exact same experiences or influencers - some overlap may exist, but there would definitely be difference. While we’d hope it would be celebrated, often - as we all know - difference unfortunately becomes synonymous with division.
To have productive conversations across difference, it’s crucial to be able to honestly speak from a place of feeling or personal experience and to engage the other person (or people) from that same place, as well.
What has influenced our thoughts, values, and behaviors? What sort of internal questioning would it take for us to come to know and understand our frame of reference? What questions can we ask others to understand theirs?
Before we enter into spaces of dialogue (that will inevitably involve difference), we should focus on our own experience and identity, work to understand where our opinions and values came from, and consider how our frame of reference impacts the way we interact with the world. Thus, recognizing that our lived experiences and identities are different from our neighbors’ and there’s a way to communicate that comes from a place of understanding. Community and justice is for everyone and needs everyone; within these realms, there isn’t room for a gaping divide.