Social Injustice

It may be stating the blatantly obvious to say that there are a large number of differing ideologies between the liberal left and the conservative right. The way these two sides of the political spectrum tend to be marketed is, I think, very misleading. At least insofar as I understand the differences between the two.

Without going too far down the many rabbit trails that one could be tempted by in this topic, the one area that I would like to focus on is the idea of “social injustice.” This is one of those political buzz words that gets bandied about like crazy these days and I’m not sure that everyone has the same understanding of what it is and how to identify it.

For starters, just to keep everything clear, one major difference between liberal and conservative with regards to this topic is the popular idea that the liberals are against social injustice while the conservatives get painted as being the those who actually cause these injustices to be realized.

Ok, more rabbit trails to avoid there. But the main thing that I wanted to hit on results from a conversation I recently heard on this topic. It was interesting to me how clearly mistaken one individual could be with regards to the cause and effect of social injustice. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed as though this persons view was not at all uncommon.

Here is the fallacy that I felt this person was making. The essential claim was “all poor people are poor because they are victims of social injustice.” That was the underlying belief from which quite a bit of their political character and understanding was built upon. It makes me wonder how many others make that same mistake.

While I will certainly not claim that there is no such thing as social injustice causing poverty, I think it absurd to claim that this is always the case. This is one of those ideological differences between the two political extremes and, for my money, you simply can’t just outright discount personal responsibility. Some people are poor, not because someone persecuted them or took advantage of them or didn’t give them a fair shot, but because they just didn’t make very good choices pertaining to their ability to earn money.

I’m willing to bet that you can find many college-aged people who could have gone to college, had the means to do so, but then simply chose not to. Perhaps they decided to stick with a job requiring no skills, didn’t do anything to make themselves more valuable (not “value” in the sense of intrinsic human value, but the kind of value that employers pay people different amounts of money for) and therefore found themselves going from job to job and perpetually struggling to keep their head above water.

This whole concept of personal responsibility seems to be a quickly fading ideology lost into the depths of history. The fact is, in some (not all) cases where some sort of social injustice has kept someone in poverty, I can’t help but think about how many individuals have overcome even worse circumstances and become quite affluent.

Again, that is not to say that this should always be the case, though it would be a more wonderful world if it were, and there are times that the circumstances were truly insurmountable. On the other hand, it seems to me that people tend to give up a lot easier than they used to. They resign themselves and categorize themselves as failures in need of someone else to take responsibility for them.

Though liberals and conservatives are typically thought of as being for the poor and the rich respectively, my particular stance is less about being “for the rich” and more about empowering every person so that they can have the tools to make the best life they are able to and use their gifts and passions to make the biggest impact possible.

This is, I realize, a very broad generalization and, again I do not want to downplay the hardships that many people legitimately struggle through. I wish those struggles didn’t happen, but that wish and $3.95 will get me a latte at Starbucks. While I wouldn’t want people to have to suffer, the fact is that they are. And, to me, it does them more good to empower them to improve their life rather than have other people help them merely survive.

Not all poverty is the result of some sort of exploitation. Not every person who lacks material wealth was taken advantage of. Sometimes, people just make bad choices and they have to pay the consequences of those bad choices.

I’ve certainly made my own share of mistakes that I’m still paying (financially) for 15 years later. Could I point fingers at some of the people who contributed to these things? Sure. Does that help? Not really. What does help is to remember, as my Psychology 101 professor was fond of saying, “You are responsible for the position you are in.”

Twenty years after taking that course at a small community college, I still remember that phrase. It still echoes in my mind all the time and in many different situations. With the very rare exception of some random act of malevolence, there is almost always some degree of personal responsibility for anything and everything we experience, good and bad.

That is my $.02. And with only a couple of trips down some short rabbit trails.

Grace, love and peace.

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