We have more commonalities than we do differences. That was the theme of a recent Justice Dinner hosted and attended by several young professionals in Chicago. Dinner guests’ reflections on social issues, combined with stories from their personal experiences, sparked broadened conversation on actions we all can take to advance justice and opportunity for people living in poverty.
Our hosts Kate Moore and Beth McDowell, who sit on the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s Professionals’ Council, gathered a group of family and friends across a wide variety of professional fields to discuss social and economic justice. Longtime friend and supporter of the Shriver Center, Jo Moore, was also among the attendees. It was a true honor to be in the company of such an amazing and thoughtful group.
Kate kicked off our conversation by asking the group: What does social justice mean to you? Have you witnessed an injustice? If so, how did you handle the situation? Each guest shared a story of injustice that had shifted their thinking and broadened their perspectives on social issues. Some of the stories were historical, and some were personal. Many involved complex factors that combined to erect barriers to opportunity.
For example, Eric Rogers talked about his personal experiences growing up in South Shore, a Chicago neighborhood plagued by poverty and violence. Although Eric succeeded in spite of the challenges that he faced growing up, many of his neighbors still struggle. Eric, who still lives in South Shore, noted that he would never face the injustice and inequality that many of his neighbors have and continue to face.
Beth posed a second question: How is justice different from empathy? Several dinner guests talked about the different meanings of justice, and how the idea can be defined in various ways by different groups. Justice can mean fairness, but it can also mean equity.
Professionals’ Council member Jonathan Jones eloquently suggested that “justice is an outcome and empathy is an action.” Collectively, we agreed that justice is a measurable outcome that can drive change to social policy and, most importantly, people’s lives. But only through feeling empathy for those suffering injustice can we continue to motivate action to make that change happen.
This lead into the last question: What can we do to move forward? How do you choose where to focus your energy? Some guests talked about listening to people and participating in uncomfortable conversations on these topics because these conversations can spark change. Others pledged to hold state and local government accountable for laws and policies that improve lives and opportunities.
At the close of the evening, dinner guests were inspired by the Southern African philosophy of Ubuntu, which roughly translates to “I am who I am because we all are.” Through discussion about our differences, we developed empathy for one another and a better understanding of our collective humanity.
Because, in the end, we have more commonalities than differences. Understanding that, we can move forward together to advance justice and opportunity for all.