What kind of person am I? I mean, deep down, who am I? What are my core values? And most importantly – have my values been tested in the crucible of temptation, despair, desolation, grief, loss, or fear?
I think we don’t know who we are until we have been tested by the rough and tumble of life. When asked, what kind of person are you, I believe most would answer that they are kind, honest, trustworthy, caring and the like. And I am sure most of us do display those worthy values, most of the time.
When I asked myself who am I at my core, I was pretty amused at my first answer. My first answer was I am still that grade school altar boy just trying to please God and those around me. But that was too easy. I forced myself to dig a bit deeper. I realize there is a hard core to me; that when I’m shoved I’m more likely to shove back than to turn the other cheek or walk away. I realize I’m pretty easy going until I feel like me or my loved ones are threatened and then I turn into a warrior. I know there was a time in my life where I acted out the ethic that the “ends justify the means” and I would do anything to win, especially when it came to fighting for social justice. My point is, I think we all have a dark side if we are willing to own up to it.
The image of who I am rests heavily on the answer to the question of what frightens me. What do I fear, what do I hide deep down in my soul that I don’t want others to see? And, how does that fear manifest itself in my actions?
I ask these questions because I believe they drive how we respond to the social justice issues that confront us. We need to take the questions of social justice and stop asking why do “they” act so and start by asking why do “I” act so. In other words, how do my actions or inaction contribute to the problem? If fear is driving my actions or my inaction – then I need to understand that.
Here are some hard questions; ones that go to the heart of our core values: How do I contribute to the racial and economic segregation of the region? What fear is driving me to oppose sharing the economic prosperity of the region? Why do I tolerate the idea that the vast majority of communities in the region are not racially or economically diverse?
As we’ve seen in the current presidential campaign, instead of answering these tough questions, the demagogue politicians are telling us that WE are all ok, but there is something wrong with “THEM” whoever the “them” happens to be at the moment. But that’s not what we are called to do, is it? As a people of faith – we are not encouraged to blame the poor for being poor, we are called to help. We are called to service. We are called to work for justice. In the language of the Catholic Church we are called to provide a preferential option for the poor.
In his book, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen says “Compassion is born when we discover in the center of our own existence not only that God is God and man is man, but also that our neighbor is really our fellow man…for a compassionate man nothing human is alien…every human face is the face of a neighbor.”
Is my fear compromising my values of compassion, community and justice? We will only know when we examine our hearts. We will truly know when we are moved to action for change.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.