I need to start off by thanking Rachel for writing such an incredible perspectives piece last week. Her unique expertise has allowed her to have a careful commentary on the differences she has been able to observe within and around the “Goshen College bubble.”
I am most definitely one of the recent alumni who have faced this bubble-popping experience in the 6 months that I’ve been out of college. I have, however, had the privilege of having one foot in the comforting environment of GC and one foot in the terrifying reality of the real world.
Attending GC has been incredible for me because it nurtured all of my social activist and hippie tendencies and taught me how to be appropriately upset at injustice. I like to think that I’ve always cared about what is right and noble, but I was quiet and lazy about social justice before I came here. For some, the social activism at GC is merely a sub-culture you adopt because you attend here; for me, it became a way of life.
With Western privilege actively working against me, I had to be aware of all the systems of oppression I occupied, and I had to stand up to them. Along the way, I learned how to stand in solidarity with systems of privilege and power that I didn’t occupy directly but that affected people and communities around me.
While I have appreciated learning how to be an activist and voice my opinions for peace and justice, what I have appreciated even more is learning how to have grace and gratitude within the process of activism. I had to learn how to have grace and compassion for people as soon as I arrived in this foreign land, because even in an inclusive place like GC, people would ask me things about me and my culture that were casually racist or sexist.
Now, I did not handle most of these encounters with grace and compassion, but my most productive encounters have been the ones where I was able to turn someone’s accidental or intentional hatred into a teaching moment for something I believe is important and valuable.
I believe this grace and compassion can be applied to nearly every instance of activism. We often forget that we are ultimately fighting for peace and justice. We need to acknowledge differences and constantly strive for good communication. Communication allows for learning and teaching moments between opposing views.
Now, I am not naïve enough to think that all opinions of opposition are valid. I am aware that some people who believe they have a right to their opinion are simply practicing hate speech and bigotry. I am also aware that I can acknowledge and identify this bigotry because of the privilege I have had to be educated in the manners of race, culture, ethics, social justice and a plethora of things that my liberal arts education has made me aware of.
We cannot merely hate people who hate us or our cause because that allows the injustice to continue unchecked. We need to engage with the ignorance and bigotry and meet people where they are.
Everyone who fights for any peace or justice must remember that the core of the peace process needs to be an acknowledging and validating of people who are different to you.
Again, I know this is a ridiculous thing to ask of people–I am not blind to that–but I also believe the task of fighting for peace and justice is a ridiculous one. Victims of hate crimes and assault should not have to extend the arm of communication and understanding to their attackers, but have found no better way to advocate for peace and justice.
This is where I feel the gratitude comes in. Happiness is a direct result of feeling gratitude. So, finding moments of gratitude among the injustice we live in allows us to be kind to one another.
We need to cherish small victories along our strife because this ridiculous task we have chosen to take on is a valuable and difficult one. We will never arrive at peace because peace is a process; every time we achieve something, there will be more work to be done.
So, if you have taken on the burden of fighting for peace and justice, know that you’re in it for the long haul. You need to find things that will sustain you along the way because if you’re tired, it will most definitely affect your activism and nothing is sadder than a burned-out activist.
Feel gratitude for how far you’ve come in your struggle because this does not devalue how far there is yet to go; it merely sustains you for the rest of the journey. Find grace in your heart to communicate with and respect people who believe differently than you, or choose to disagree with you, or choose to arrive at peace and justice a different way.
I believe this grace and gratitude can allow us to unite as a people who want to make the world better through communication and understanding.