We are hurting. We want change. We are advocating for it, demanding it, and organizing for it. We are calling for it in the streets, community centers, and board rooms. Many of us are calling for it in terms of “justice.”
We see the uncountable ways that we are causing each other unnecessary suffering; the uncountable ways in which social, political, economic, and cultural systems have been organized to keep people down; uncountable ways in which some of us have been coerced to create material wealth for others, leaving everyone’s emotions and souls shattered in the process. We see justice as the antidote to the brokenness and unfairness.
As the calls for justice escalate, we are seeing two interrelated reactions, both of which undermine the project of creating the society our hearts know is possible, and both of which are arise from a limited idea of what justice is and could be.
On the one hand, sometimes we tune out of the call for justice. This happens for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes we don’t understand what the issue has to do with us, sometimes we feel powerless and overwhelmed, sometimes we feel attacked and defensive, sometimes we don’t trust the person speaking to us, sometimes we simply need time and support to actually learn and integrate the new information. When we don’t actively engage the call for justice, we ignore it; and this ignorance leaves the call unanswered and people suffering unnecessarily. Some of this response, however, happens as a reaction to how another portion of our community is relating to the idea of justice.
Sometimes we use justice primarily as a way to say “no” to things. It is the flag of our sacred rage; providing the moral and intellectual force to our rebellion. It is a sword to cut down illusions, artifices, and institutions that inflict pain; it is a fire to burn what is not serving us. All of this is indispensable. We need to say “no” to things, to demand what we deserve, and to organize our ideas and our analysis to be precise about what we are saying “no” to. But when we focus exclusively on the brokenness, we begin to see nothing but problems, and every moment gives us another reason to be angry and disappointed. If we are not careful, we start seeing people as nothing but the ways their actions and identities perpetuate injustice. We turn people into problems, we turn ourselves into problems, then some of us even try to imagine ourselves to be saints in order to avoid the self-loathing.
People who live in these two patterns have a tough time talking to each other. The first feels blamed by the second. The second feels abandoned by the first. Both judge and fear each other. Both see justice as a weapon. Both need to remember that justice can be a language of love. Justice is a way for us to come into better relationships with each other; relationships that foster the nourishing interconnection that supports all of us to be who we long to be.
This concept of “love language” is pretty simple. It was introduced to us by Gary Chapman, a relationship therapist, who noticed that everyone has different ways that they like to give and receive love. He noticed that there were five basic ways people received love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. If some needs love in one language (say quality time), they will feel unloved even if someone is giving them lots of gifts. And the person who is giving them gifts might feel angry, confused, or resentful that the love they are giving is not being felt.
In order for us to love a partner, we need to attune to the ways they are asking to receive love. Otherwise we are not actually loving them. We may be feeling love toward them, but we are not performing the act of loving. We are caught in love as a feeling, not acting on love as that magical verb that brings connection and meaning into our lives.
The more we learn a love language, the more we can use it as a way to connect with each other in ways that feel amazing. Just think about how good it feels when your beloved massages you in just the way you need, or when you are able to compliment your friend in a way that uplifts their spirits, or give your family member a gift that lets them feel how much you know and cherish them. The more we speak these languages to each other, the better our lives get. The good news is that there is a sixth love language that we can learn to speak: justice.
Justice has its own vocabulary. Its own set of actions, words, ideas, and sensitivities that enable us to love and connect in ways that no other language can. Justice asks us to attune to the ways we impact each other, intentionally and unintentionally, directly and as mediated by social/economic/political systems into which we were born. It directs us to the place where our souls meet their social conditioning, where our hearts meet the realities of how our bodies are perceived and treated. It speaks of dignity, history, context, and repair.
Justice whispers the secrets of how our fates and feelings are bound together; and especially bound with people we feel the least connected to. It passes notes in class attesting to the ways our differences create our unity. It shouts in the streets that we are in this together. It looks its beloved in the eye and says “You can do better. We can do better. We must do better.”
To speak justice is to say to humanity “I commit to you. I see you, and I see the ways I don’t see you, I will learn to see you more, and I honor that I may never see you fully. I am with you. I love you. I will stand with you as you heal and learn to bring your full beauty to Earth. I clear out anything with in me that is making that harder for you. And I will hold your hand as we remake society into a place where we can all belong, express, and thrive.”
For us to say this truthfully, we have to be on an endless journey to step deeper into love. This requires wrestling with things that create barriers to love like racism, patriarchy, classism, ableism, capitalism, colonialism, and heteronormativity. If we do not see how these things impact ourselves and each other, then we are not seeing clearly. If we do not care to become skillful at noticing and transforming the ways these things manifest in, around, and through us then they will always create distance between us. For our love to be complete, we need justice.
Asking for justice is a way of communicating that we need something. Needs are beautiful, they reach toward interdependence and community. They are the portals of togetherness that we have been taught to be ashamed of by an ideology that exists to keep us apart and alone. Responding to the call for justice is reaching back, stepping into interconnection and recommitting to our shared humanity. Leaving the illusion of your separateness and coming back into wholeness
Every time justice or identity politics comes up, it is an opportunity for us to love each other. We just need to know how to speak the language. We just need to understand that each of us is in very different situations, and need to receive love in different ways. Some of the ways we need to receive love are direct functions of violent social systems and traumatizing histories. If we actually want to connect with each other, we need to learn the different ways we are experiencing these systems.
If we don’t learn, then we can’t love or connect. We may think we are, but we are in the same position as the person giving a gift to their beloved who wants words of affirmation. We are just missing the opportunity. Or maybe worse, we might be giving touch to someone who does not consent, even though they would be open to receiving love via an act of service. When we do not attune to the person we want to love, then we cannot actually connect. If we want to connect with people across lines of difference (i.e. race, ability, gender, sexual orientation), then we have to learn to attune to them. And part of this process is proactively healing from the ways we have been taught to dehumanize each other, getting sensitive to the ways social norms render this dehumanization invisible, and being aware of how we can meet needs that are created by the unnecessary suffering imposed by social/economic/political structures.
This business of loving is hard. It requires vulnerability, resilience, courage, tenderness, insight, and patience. But it is the only way to connect our hearts, to uplift and nourish each other, to help each other inhabit the warmth, safety, and belonging that is our birthright. Loving via justice is particularly tricky because the terrain of this is nuanced, riddled with scars of the past, and peppered with landmines in the present.
But those who want to love; I mean really love; love in a way that lets fills our hearts, enlivens our spirits, and floods our lives with meaning and joy; we must learn how to speak the language of justice. This is the language that allows us to uplift humanity and restore the dignity of people who we have been trained to view as less than human. And that group, for the record, includes every single human being living under our colonial capitalist system that views all our sacred lives as nothing but “human resources” while especially objectifying and denigrating people who are not straight, white, able-bodied, and male.
So friends. Will you come speak justice with me? Will you whisper secrets of dignity and reparations? Will you talk intersectionality to me? Will you listen courageously? Embrace rage? Will you transform superiority complexes and supremacy culture?
I’m proposing. Let’s do it in the streets and courthouses, the restaurants and gyms. Let’s do it in the bedrooms and the boardrooms. Let’s make sweet sweet justice until our hearts are overflowing with love, until we are celebrating and singing, until the difference between our laughter and our cries dissolve. Let’s hold each other close, plant seeds of a new world, and water them with the tears of our holy grief.