With news headlines filled with injustice, violence, and oppression, it is hard not to feel overwhelmed. We are outraged by the Trayvon Martin travesty and we want answers. But there are none. We feel helpless and angry and confused.
We feel like a burned out lamppost – wanting the light, needing the light, wanting and needing to be the light. We want to things to change but we don’t know how to make them change.
So we complain and we rage and we shout. What is wrong with the legal system? What is wrong with our politicians? What is wrong with our country? What is wrong with them? What is wrong with us?
Some of us take a holistic approach to societal problems, by focusing on making small changes in our daily life in the hopes that by living right and doing right, justice will prevail. Others choose the path of outspoken advocacy by bluntly pointing out injustices and demanding social change and accountability.
But is either approach enough? Is it enough to live right and do right in your own life? Is it enough to complain about the injustices, oppressions, and inequalities?
Or do some situations warrant more? Are some societal wrongs so wrong that living right and doing right in our own lives will not help the problem without an affirmative public demand for improvement? Are some societal injustices so fundamental that demanding social change will not improve the underlying prejudices without the incorporation of justice into one’s personal life?
The Trayvon Martin travesty has called to light our nation’s pervasive problems with racism and inadequate gun control laws. But living right and doing right in one’s daily life is not enough to fix these problems. According to a report published by the Children’s Defense Fund, 116,385 children and teens were killed by firearms between 1979 and 2009 and 5,740 children were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009 alone.
It is simply not enough for you and me to live right and do right by not carrying a concealed weapon and not engaging in vigilantism. We must call out the problem, take a stand, and demand change. As Patricia McGuire stated so well her in Huff Post blog, we must demand that our lawmakers “have the guts to ‘stand [their] ground’ and stare down the gun lobby. Protecting the community from the harm that lurks within it is not a job for vigilantes; protecting the people so that we may enjoy life, liberty and happiness is the essential role of government everywhere.”
Similarly, it is not enough to be a staunch advocate for social change without living out our ideals in our own life. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
It can be incredibly difficult – nearly impossible – to live right and do right when faced with challenge and controversy in our own lives. Do we quietly snicker at racist jokes told by friends and family in order to avoid controversy? Or do we live right and call out the inappropriateness of the comment?
Do we call ourselves out on our own prejudices and hold ourselves to a higher level of accountability?
I cannot say that I have succeeded at living right and doing right on many occasions. I don’t have the answers; all I can do is reflect on the ways in which I can improve my actions going forward and try to do better and be better every day. That’s all any of us can do.
Some issues are so important and fundamental that in order to live right and do right, we must also demand more – more of our country, more of our community, more of ourselves. As Elie Wiesel once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
We cannot be neutral. We cannot be silent. We must live right by doing right. And we do right by demanding more, demanding better.