Jay and I recently led two workshops at the Inspire Justice Conference, and were approached by a middle aged woman after one of the keynote sessions. She thanked us, explaining that we had changed her son’s life, and now he is changing hers.
We felt humbled. These are the moments I wish I could capture in a bottle – moments in which we catch a glimpse of the domino effect caused by our words and actions, and feel that we are part of a much bigger story. Since then I have been able to put a finger on something I value deeply: the willingness of our parents’ generation to learn from their kids.
When it comes to social justice, many in my generation are choosing to live differently. This takes many forms. Like buying ethically made products. Or downsizing instead of upsizing. Or volunteering abroad. Or being committed to a cause. Or boycotting certain businesses. Or serving soup in the red light district.
Our parents have seen many of us grow from little children to teenagers to university students to adults. They have patiently endured the shaping of our ideologies and supported us through the ups and downs that come with each stage of life. But for the parents whose adult children care deeply about social justice, the relational road may have been (or might still be) a rocky one.
A few years ago my sister-in-law, Ruthann, and I were attending the same university and learning daily about the injustice happening all over the world. In our own way, we both grew prideful about all that we knew and looked down on those who had not had the same “revelation” about living justly.
I remember many conversations around my inlaws’ dining room table during which my mother-in-law would end up feeling judged and discouraged. My mom has experienced frustration as well, especially the year that Christmas and birthday shopping became complicated. Not only did Jay and I want to simplify our lifestyle, but we had also requested that no one buy us clothing unless it was used or ethically made. This coming from a daughter who used to live at the mall was a big shift for my poor mom. Here’s what it comes down to:
Though many of us have gained some knowledge about rights and wrongs in the world, this knowledge has not yet been balanced and perfected by an equal dose of love and grace.
I am glad to say that Jay, Ruthann, and I are slowly learning how to live by example instead of getting bogged down in debates. We have been reminded that if it were not for our parents – who shaped our character as children, encouraged us to learn, and provided for us in many ways – we probably wouldn’t have been able to learn what we know now. We are also learning that we don’t know everything. Our parents have insight and experience that we do not. Both my parents and in-laws have shown a tremendous amount of grace toward us, and I want to extend that to them in return. Changing one’s lifestyle without isolating and judging others is a slow and humbling process.
The beauty is that our generation is not the only one changing. Many in our parents’ generation are taking the same steps we are, either following the example of their kids or leading the way. Today my in-laws are living so intentionally that I am challenged and encouraged every time I see them, and this past Christmas my mom was thrilled to find a sweatshop-free store!
Just the other day, I was speaking with a mother figure/friend of mine. This is a woman who is intentionally becoming more conscious about social justice and her part in it. She lives with mixed emotions. She celebrates when she buys a fair trade chocolate bar, and moments later kicks herself for buying a coffee that is not. I think we are all in that spectrum somewhere. She said:
“Michelle, I’m a little offended that you keep referring to my generation as the one who has screwed everything up and yours as the one who will fix it.”
She raises a good point. Though I often do challenge the status quo of our parents’ generation, they are not solely responsible for the injustice in this world, and our generation is not the saviour. We all have a role to play in reducing exploitation and planting good, and there are certain things that our parents’ generation can do way better than we can. They have seen trends come and go, they have acquired skills and resources, and they have worked hard so that we can have opportunities. We have a lot to learn from them.
On the same token, our generation has a lot to offer our parents. Many of us are willing to take risks, we are challenging assumptions, we are re-evaluating systems and power structures. We are tech-savvy and cyber connected. And we are young enough to be completely audacious.
So, for the generations ahead of us:
To those who raised us, thank you for having grace and patience with us. To those who have resourced us, thank you for believing in us. To those who are trying to be more intentional about living justly, we admire and encourage you. To those who feel judged and discouraged, we apologize for hurting you. To those who are trail-blazing ahead of us and beside us, we are inspired by you.
For our generation:
Let us hold to the convictions we have, and make no apologies for wanting to pursue justice. Let our lives be marked by passion, and let us not be afraid of sacrifice. Let us keep asking the hard questions and dreaming big dreams. But as we grow in knowledge, may we also grow in love and grace.
None of us know it all, but we should all intentionally pursue truth. I hope that as time goes on, I would learn to inspire – not judge – those around me, in the same way that I have been inspired by others. May we all, regardless of generation, strive toward this.