Cornel West is one of my favorite public figures because of his unique ability to embody both a deeply rooted brotherly love for anyone he encounters alongside a fiery righteous indignation at all examples of injustice in the world. As far as I’m concerned, the moment we are living in, which is a moment of life or death decisions on an unfathomable scale, requires both from us. It calls to mind another quote from Martin Luther King, Jr, about the often misperceived dichotomy between power and love: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
I’ve long said that justice is one of my top three values, but some clarification on this point is needed, because justice means different things to different people. To some people, justice means an eye for an eye. To a child, it has more to do with perceived fairness in the allocation of treats and chores. In order to clarify what justice means to me, in this post I will examine a current example of injustice in the world through the lens of Erich Fromm’s four dimensions of loving: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. The current example of injustice that I will be examining is that of anti-Asian violence in the US.
Care: It is probably obvious that behaving violently towards someone is not caring behavior, but what about feeling bad about an injustice without actually doing anything to stop it? This dimension of love speaks to the fact that love is a behavior, an activity, and not merely a feeling. Last week I was in a group networking call for Bay Area therapists, and one seasoned Chinese-American therapist spoke of his experience taking a walk in the current climate of anti-Asian violence. Very pointedly, he said to the other (mostly white) therapists present, “We don’t need your concern; we need your action. What are you going to do?”
Responsibility: There are certain moments when one’s active concern for another are most urgently called for. Responsibility is one’s ability and readiness to respond with caring action when the moment calls for it. If you are not able or ready to respond to this moment, get curious about what is in the way, and what is needed for your caring response to be able to come through. Usually what’s in the way is some kind of fear. Remember that our ability to love others depends on our ability to love ourselves, and this means responding with care to our own needs as well. If you’re curious to look closer at the connection between self-love and social justice work, and would like support implementing these ideas in your life, I’m offering a six-week course starting on May 6, 2021, designed to do just that.
Respect: This week I read an article about the connection between white supremacy and ableism and came across this gem: “Doubting self-reports is a symptom of injustice.” So often our commitment to justice is weakened by our inability to respect someone enough to believe them when they tell us about their experience. If I’m honest with myself, I know that one of the ways in which I let fear prevent me from responding with care is by doubting the authenticity of another person’s request for help.
Knowledge: If we don’t know what’s actually happening in the world, or if we don’t know our history, or if we don’t know how to effectively intervene when we see injustice, then even our most well-intentioned efforts to act with love in service of justice will be misguided. Much of the “tough-love,” “thoughts and prayers,” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” messaging comes from this kind of ignorance.
For anyone in the Bay Area looking to get involved with a local organization that is working to prevent anti-Asian violence, check out CompassionInOakland.org.
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Are you distressed by all the division and conflict that exists between people today? Do you find yourself avoiding “touchy subjects” like COVID, systemic racism, and climate change with certain family members or friends? Does all this leave you feeling hopeless for humanity’s future? On May 1, 1992, Rodney King asked, “Can we all get along?” Today, 29 years later, it seems like the answer is no. But what if the solution to humanity’s problems were actually simpler than you thought? On May 6, 2021, join us for a six-week online course on how healthy relationship skills can save the world. Befriend the Change. Click here for more info.
Nauser Bear is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California (LMFT#123099; licensed with the BBS as Nicholas Jon Reynolds). To work with Nauser, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, call (510) 394-5373, or schedule a free 20-minute consultation by clicking here.
Disclaimer: This blog and comments on it do not constitute medical or mental health advice. If you are in need of support and live in California, contact me to set up a consult to see if working together is a fit. Otherwise, seek mental health support in your area. If you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention hotline, which is available 24/7, at 800-273-8255.