Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Separating from guilt and advocacy

All my Catholic friends joke about guilt, but what they often don't realize that Mormon (guilt only among girls and women) is just as familiar and real.  I have had a life long problem with guilt, and I still struggle to understand the balance between guilt and compassion.  To make matters worse, I also have, at times, been part of the apology for institutional guilt.

"White guilt" is often invoked by the racist to explain why some of us want to see racial equality.  Personally, I hate the term and feel it demeans my compassion.  I want to see equality because I truly believe all people are the same and deserve to be treated with compassion, courtesy and respect.  It makes me angry when people who don't know and have no concept of my life experiences think that they can pigeon hole my motivations.  It makes me even more angry to have their reason be a ridiculous one that dismisses their role in keeping some people from having rights.

There is a difference between feeling guilt over something you didn't do (like cause the Holocaust) and looking at the past and present and seeing that some people have been treated very, very badly and that it needs to stop.  One is selfish, the other isn't.  Seeing the reality that in this country boys of non-white ethnic identity are greatly more likely to be poor or incarcerated is not about my ethnic identity, it's about seeing what's in front of me.  Choosing to speak out in favor of poverty alleviating programs, better educational opportunities and prison reform means I see a way to change the problem.  Calling out political groups that are trying to suppress minority voters is about upholding the law; it has nothing to do with a guilty conscience.

Advocacy does not have to be fueled by guilt. For me, it is fueled by hope and a desire to see change happen in this world.  I am white person of dubious middle class standing, but my education and my exposure to poverty and injustice make me empathize with people less fortunate than I am.  That doesn't make me guilty or guilt ridden, it makes me caring.  I encourage advocacy; your voice, your money, or time can make a difference to your life and to the lives of others.  As long as you are doing it for the right reasons, with due diligence towards fairness, I see advocacy as a spiritual necessity.  It spreads love. It makes us aware of our own blessings, and it can be a powerful way to make the reality you want to live in.

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