Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Justice: Delightful Pleasure or Grim Duty?

Given challenging political times, I believe liberals and progressives need to reconsider our strategies to be effective.

Anyone who has read my books or this blog probably knows I believe people are best motivated by the pleasure principle. Better, in the words of The One Minute Manager, to “catch somebody doing something right” than “catch somebody doing something wrong.” Best, in the view of Pollyanna, to know and proclaim there are more blessings than curses in The Bible.

Many of us got so “judged” by the biblical god that we turn around and judge others harshly too.  And this is not just those who are fundamentalist or biblical literalists; liberals and progressives do it too. A progressive friend of mine once said that the word “justice” had become a weapon that we use on those we believe don’t measure up to our standards. And I’ve written before that progressives and liberals can have our own fundamentalism.

Two weeks ago I wrote of multiculturalism and multinationalism as a pleasurable thing, explaining how my spouse and I “delight in finding out the origins of someone’s name, or accent, or heritage.” I added, “This is the pleasure of a multicultural, multinational world.”  I was attempting to lead all of us out of a fear-based nativism by presenting a positive case for welcoming others—into our countries, into our lives, into our neighborhoods and homes.

Admittedly I had intentionally tweaked the beak of those who consider it a “micro-aggression” to ask “Where are you from?” I said as much in the first paragraph.

On one of the progressive Christian Facebook pages where I post the link to my blog posts, I was taken to task by someone—white and well-informed—for my “racist” assumptions that clearly came from my “white privilege.” Ironically, my intention had been to address a nativist rant, and I had referred to white privilege that shields many of us from its sting.

In several back-and-forth volleys, I explained that I exercise discretion in discovering someone’s origins, just as I do in conversation with someone who may not be “out” as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

But the point of my post was to help others see that multiculturalism can be fun, not just an exercise in a dry diversity training program, not just a grim duty that justice or God requires of us.

There are times when justice may be a grim duty. Even then it can feel good to do what’s right. But if it is most often or always a grim duty, then we might wonder at our motives for pursuing it. If it is not also a delightful pleasure, then we might question our character or values or personalities.

Multiculturalism doesn’t exist for my pleasure or delight, I was told. Now, I have wondered about a kind of cultural imperialism whereby a dominant culture appropriates habits and customs and dress and wisdom of other cultures. As a Hispanic, third-generation Californian friend of mine observed, witnessing a white minister in traditional African garb, “Why do you guys have to take on other people’s cultures?”

My Facebook opponent ultimately retorted with her own brand of “micro-aggression”:  “Check your privilege.”

Weeks ago I considered writing a post about white privilege, but didn’t get beyond my opening illustration. As Wade and I took one of our neighborhood walks, it occurred to me that even in our multiracial community, if we weren’t white, we might be regarded suspiciously as we pointed out features of a house or its yard.

We all have the privilege of welcoming those different from ourselves and celebrating those differences. I do not do it simply because it’s “right” or “just” or “liberal” or “progressive,” I do it because it is beneficial, healthy, wise, and wonder-full. And dare I say it? Pleasurable!

Think what a better world we’d have if everyone felt that way.

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  1. Thank you for pushing back and not letting go of the celebration aspects of diversity. We would all do well to celebrate one another - and less time worrying about whether or not we are wrong to point out (wondrous and God-given) differences. :)

    1. Thanks, Beverly, for both of your comments! I was hoping others might agree.

  2. Thanks for this, Chris! Yes to more celebrations of diversity. It energizes me as well.

  3. Thanks, Chris. I appreciate your sweat and tears over phrasing this one. I think you did extremely well.
    I am reminded how true it is that moralities (?) cannot be legislated. (As we all see. It might start ball rolling for some or many but in many cases it pushes some into corner, or something?)
    I am also fondly recalling how my dad molded me into having a way to always check my attitude and heart about anything if i found myself not able to rejoice in the privilege of being the one to do it.

    1. Wow, thanks, Chuck, for your wisdom and that of your dad!

    2. Btw, there were more than five versions of this post, so thanks for noticing my careful choice of words.