A few weeks ago one of the readers at church read a passage that really struck a cord with me. I thought it was a succinct, well-written outline of some of the thoughts we're pondering as we start making decisions about life after rationing.
I asked the reader for a transcript of the text and I received the following excerpt from Beyond Guilt, by George S. Johnson. My apologies for taking some liberties with the text, as all emphases are my own.
Guilt, powerlessness and fear are three dragons that paralyze many people in efforts to move beyond charity toward oppressed people.
The appeal for charity, feeling sorry and sharing our resources is the beginning, a good starting place, but it is only the first step.
There is a saying that helps to explain the challenge to work for justice, not just for charity. “If people are hungry, you can give them some fish and they will live another day. This is called relief, [or charity]. But if you not only give a fish, but teach them how to fish for themselves they will be helped to feed themselves in the future.” This is often called development.
That sounds good, but it can be misleading if it is not followed with the next step.
There is a third part of that saying that is critical to our efforts to move beyond guilt. We must not only offer the fish (relief) and assistance in learning how to fish themselves (development), but we must move over in the pond and GIVE them a place to fish. And, we must stop polluting the pond where they fish … And we must give them a fair price FOR their fish.
This third step clearly has many facets to it. It is called working for justice, fairness. Justice includes efforts to end oppression and unfair practices of the domination system.
Moving from charity to justice is difficult, because it calls for careful listening, increased awareness, and critical thinking about the attitudes and values that have brought us to this current crisis.
To avoid feeling guilty, we may stay at surface-level analysis. Guilt may be preferred to making changes or facing the pain and uncertainty of solidarity with those who cry for justice.
Could it be that, while we complain about guilt, we actually prefer it to enlightened analysis and action?
To get involved may lead to changes we’re not ready to make. Beliefs and values may be challenged. Systems that have blessed us may be examined and found wanting. Our security and prosperity may be jeopardized.
We can surely sleep better at night when we are ignorant of the reality of human suffering and its connection to our acceptable lifestyles.