The joy of social justice


11 Feb 2022

A passion for social justice grows when we recognise the value of each human being and find delight in reaching out to others.

We can easily allow social justice to be something we are vaguely in favour of, but not a priority in our lives.

The World Day of Social Justice (20 February) will then disappear into the mist of innumerable worthy days and weeks. If our own lives are going smoothly, we might like people who are discriminated against to be properly treated, but we do not agitate for the social change that will make that happen. At election time we think first of how the competing party policies will benefit or hurt ourselves and whether they can be trusted to implement their promises. Only then will we ask whether they will make Australia a more just nation.

The experience of Covid, however, has made many people focus on the fairness of our society. They have seen big companies and rich individuals make enormous profits during the epidemic, while others have lost income and have fallen into debt. They have also noticed the contrast between the importance of the work that people do and its financial and social reward.

People working in health and aged care and in delivery are poorly paid and often at great risk of infection while bankers, administrators and professional sportsmen are highly paid. The unfairness and arbitrariness of government support has also become evident. Profitable businesses are subsidised while self-employed people, refugees, overseas students and others are deprived of benefits. The gap between those who own property and others also continues to grow.

Noticing these things does not necessarily create a thirst for justice, but it does highlight injustice in society and encourages hope for a better way.

During the time of coronavirus we have glimpsed ways in which a just society might work and how attractive it might be. We felt encouraged when people did not pursue their own gain but accept restrictions on their freedom to keep other people safe, when neighbours called in on the elderly to ensure they were well, when governments supported the homeless and the unemployed, and when individuals went out of their way to build local community instead of brooding on what they had lost. The face of social justice was no longer dutiful and careworn but happy.

Seen from this perspective a passion for social justice grows when we recognise the value of each human being and our mutual dependence, and also find delight in generosity and reaching out to people on the edge of our society. It involves more than a well worked-out plan for society and a social philosophy. It comes alive when people cheerfully sacrifice themselves for others and find joy in it.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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