I most recently read the book Aleph by Paulo Coelho. He is an author that requires you to ask yourself a lot of questions. In this book, in particular, he does not feel at peace with himself and the life that surrounds him. He decides to go on a journey to see if can recapture that sense of oneness with himself. He notes that the search for peace has a price. The question is, “are you willing to do what it takes to be at peace with yourself?”
For those of us working for social justice, we put ourselves in situations all the time where we are triggered, where people say offensive things, and who we are becomes the subject of public debate; certainly environments that require extra energy to be whole.
Peace by definition is: a state of tranquility or quiet, freedom from civil disturbance, a state of security or order within a community, freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions, harmony in personal relations. So how do we find the peace that is so important in our lives?
We must find time to reflect, to surround ourselves with those who love and support us, to have fun, to remember that social justice work is intense but we can’t let it consume us. Paulo Coelho suggests that is only with “the ability to love, forgive and have courage on your travels” that will lead you in that direction. If we carry around with us too much baggage, it will cloud our ability to see clearly and have a sense of calmness…oneness with ourselves and the world around us. It is not easy, and does not end on one journey. There will be multiple journeys and you must travel them with your eyes, mind and spirit wide open; look into them and hear what they say. Avoid the temptation to rationalize them away or find 101 reasons to ignore what you will clearly see and feel—otherwise they will come back with more fervor.
Finally, I would offer that in my experience of working in the field of social justice, I have found that an “Attitude of Gratitude” goes a long way. In fact, I would say that we try to be grateful much, if not all, of the time. Unfortunately, there is always going to be more work that needs to be done to create a world free of discrimination and oppression. And yet, from my experience, being grateful both feeds my soul and moves hearts faster. None of us enjoy having a finger pointed at them, and it should always be remembered that when one points a finger, there are generally three fingers pointing right back at you. (Try it!)
Jackie Simpson is currently the Director of the Spectrum Center at the University of Michigan. In addition, she is leading the Division of Student Affairs efforts on developing a comprehensive leadership plan. She received her Master’s degree in Counselor Education at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro in 1993 and since then has been engaged in work at several universities in that relate to student development, leadership and social justice education. On most days, you can find Jackie passionate about the work, someone who thinks it is critically important to work hard AND play hard. Laughter is an everyday part of her life. She has had the privilege of travelling extensively throughout her live and learned mostly that, “if you smile at me, I will understand, cuz’ that is something everybody , everywhere does in the same enlightened way.” (Crosby, Stills, & Nash)