What is social justice? When I think of a socially just society images of long ago stories come to mind, stories of Utopia, and peaceful coexistence among people, stories of brave historical figures risking life, limb, and personal security to aid others treated unfairly and in need of a voice and a helping hand: the Underground Railroad, the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. I think of gross injustices and excess and violence of humanity along with images of war torn villages and nations, and starving, exploited people. Interspersed, though, are images of humanitarian relief efforts, and tireless, brave individuals taking up the challenge of caring for those who are oppressed and cannot fully care for themselves, of those who work to bring about policies benefiting the greater good.
Social justice is an amorphous idea. It is dependent on one’s socioeconomic circumstance of birth, one’s world view, one’s education, value system, and moral compass, and on one’s ability to empathize, as well as on individual ideas of what society means and what justice means. For some, justice is nothing more than an eye for an eye, but for others, such a view is heinous and primitive in any contemporary, learned society.
Justice, defined by Plato, was the heart, the center, and the foundation of an ideal society. Justice, rife with ideas of fairness and equality, was the only remedy for a decaying society driven by self-interest.
Can we say our laws are just, equitable and fair to all citizens? Do our public polices support all persons equally?
On this day, the third Monday of January, the United States of America remembers Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his contribution in the struggle toward equality and a more just society. There may always be those driven by self-interest, but there will also always be those willing to take up the challenge of promoting a more just society.
Written by Michelle Sicignano, LMSW, SJS Staff Writer