Finding Your Reason to Fight Injustice
It was the fall of 1979. The playground of my Saskatchewan country school was filled with all kinds of adventures and things to explore. It was also where my first memory of injustice happened.
I only had one sibling, a younger brother, but I was part of a big extended family of cousins. We were all close in age growing up and we all got along great. In fact, some of my richest memories from those years revolve around endless hours of playing hide and seek on my grandparents’ farm with up to 12-15 kids at one time.
There were 8 of us Duncan cousins that all went to the same school. It helped me to not feel alone when I made my own trek to kindergarten. I had two older cousins there and they both were kind enough to acknowledge me and check in on me from time to time.
That’s why what happened has stayed so clear in my mind after all of those years.
It was probably my first or second week at school. Like any system, the school yard becomes a place where you have to figure out how to make your way. I thought I was doing ok until I did something that annoyed a boy in grade three.
I don’t even know what I did. I might have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I only remember being filled with terror at the thought of being on his bad list.
A terrifying chase ensued and I found myself up against the outside wall of the gym, on the side where no one could see what was going on. He squeezed my arm and held me against the wall, threatening to punch or kick me.
I was paralyzed by terror. This was a foreign experience for me. I had led a very sheltered life up until this point and didn’t know how to process or navigate this new jungle of the playground.
Just when I thought I would pass out from the pain (or maybe the terror!) someone grabbed his arm and stepped between us.
It was my older cousin, Blaine.
He didn’t start beating my adversary up. He didn’t even shame him.
He simply said, “Hey, she’s my little cousin and she’s only in kindergarten. You don’t want to do that to someone that’s only in kindergarten, do you?”
My bully let go of me and walked away. I just stood there, sobbing from the relief of what I thought was a near death experience.
My cousin simply said, “Come on, Christal, you can play with us over there.”
I have never forgotten that event.
In fact, it’s now one of the few things I can remember from those early years.
The reason I remember is not just because it was my first brush with injustice, although those are often memorable for many of us.
I remember it because of how my cousin, who was probably only 8 at the time, had wisdom that was far beyond his years. When Blaine stepped in and said those words to my tormentor, he was doing the right thing.
Mercy is always the right thing in injustice.
But there was something more – because what he said changed his actions by changing the way the other boy was thinking.
Doing the right thing may seem like it should be enough to motivate us, but sometimes it’s not enough to know that.
If we do something only because it’s the right thing to do, we may waiver at some point in our pursuit of tapping into that same motivation at a different time.
Motivations can change. They are dependant on circumstances, timelines and sometimes just plain old emotions.
Standing up for injustice should come easy. But that’s not always the case.
So what do you do when you are like us: the kind of people who want our lives to be about something bigger than ourselves but are scared that we may not “do the right thing” when the time comes?
In order to do that, I humbly suggest we consider how the 8 year old version of my cousin decided to fight injustice that day on the playground.
He stepped in because it was the right thing to do AND because it was in line with how he saw himself.
He saw himself as a kid in grade three who wanted to be someone who treated others fairly. And then, he called to that same value in my bully.
He taught me something way back then that still resonates in my life now.
And it can help each of us gain perspective on why it can be easy to live our lives in a way that is just and leaving a legacy.
This is the key for shaping the stories we want to tell ourselves and the world. This is how we can find the courage to change and help others find their own courage.
We can do it because of who we actually believe we are capable of becoming.
If I tell you that you need to do something because it’s the right thing to do, even though that statement may have a great deal of truth to it, that might not be compelling enough to change how you think. Not because you are a bad person, but ultimately there is a story around why we do what we do.
And if you have ever struggled with how to feel about your role in changing the world and making it a better, safer place, this may be what you need to hear right now.
Act justly and share of yourself because it’s about who you are, not what other people tell you is the right thing for you.
In doing this, you decide the direction of your life based on what you most value. And those values will help light the path the next time you need courage to make a decision to act.
You empower yourself to deal with injustice when you honour who you want to be – and act on that desire time and again.
Living justly expands our world view. It lifts judgment on where others are at in life. And most of all, it honours the possibilities of what we can create while we are on this earth.
Your past may be filled with lots of lost opportunities or mistakes. You can’t change that.
But you can change what you do from this moment forward.
The first place to start is to decide who you want to. Learn from an 8 year old kid and get intentional about who you are for the world around you.
Do it because you are worth it.
Christal Earle is an author, speaker, a podcaster, social entrepreneur and a lover of dark chocolate and great conversation. She is also Widlene’s mom. Originally the co-founder of Live Different, a Canadian youth humanitarian charity, she now works with social change-makers to transform the stories they tell themselves and the world. She lives between Toronto and Dominican Republic, as she works to accomplish her ultimate dream: bringing Widlene to Canada.