Yesterday, Brian Tamaki was charged again with breaking lockdown restrictions, a group of his supporters gathered to protest his arrest outside Henderson Police station out in West Auckland, and on social media, the feeding frenzy began. Twitter, Insta – pick your platform – piled on, condemning the Tamaki’s, condemning the protestor’s, condemning any and all who support, listen to, or follow this man.
A similar thing happened in the wake of the North Short party, with condemnation swiftly moving from what was – perhaps – justifiable outrage, to straight up bullying, harassment, and abuse of both the organizers and those who attended.
These are just the most recent examples, but this phenomenon of using social shame as a tool to achieve social transformation has become a common place over the last few years.
And in some respects, you can see why. For those in the activist/social justice space, who are actively engaged in fighting for social transformation shame can be a powerful tool to create quick shift in what we might call public tolerability.
Enough people ridicule an individual for something they’ve done, said, or thought, and we see others, sometimes more powerful people, with larger platform, joining the call for social exclusion. What was tolerable within public space quickly shifts, a scape goat has been chosen, and others who might think, feel, or do something similar take note, and keep those now unacceptable views outside of the public eye.
Societal change – on one level – has occurred.
And yet, swift change often does not run deep, nor does it always last or produce the sort of radical social reform that we’re actually hoping to realize.
The problem here is that many of us have not fully examined the worldviews that we hold, nor the consequences that arise from them. For many of us our worldview has developed through our own social conditioning, the community we grew up in, the family we belong to, these systems shape the way we see the world, and what we accept as normative and acceptable within society.
And so, when individuals are scapegoated or attacked for worldviews that they have been conditioned to hold, this does not often produce self-examination, nor the ability to develop the openness and courage to critique and – possibly – change one’s way of seeing the world. In fact, this frontal attack to often produces the opposite.
That person’s view is entrenched, and they are driven to more extreme, and sometimes more harmful fridges of the view they hold.
In the end the change we seek ultimately eludes us.
Of course, I am not saying that we should not challenge ideas or behaviour’s that are harmful and unjust. It is important that we address worldviews – and the actions that arise from them – within our society that have historically caused harm, and which continue to do so.
However, how we do this – I believe – is just as important as doing it.
There is a passage from the ancient Hebrew scriptures that guides me as I engage in this space. It can be found in the book of Micah (chapter 6 verse 8), and at its simplest it is a reminder to Seek Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly.
The Ole bro Micah who wrote these words was an ancient prophet who stood against the rich and the powerful, condemning their exploitation and oppression of the people. He didn’t sugar coat things, he was straight up, prepared to both stand, and die, for Justice and the Liberation of his people.
And yet, I find it so important here that alongside a call to Justice also sits an encouragement to Love Mercy, and to remain humble.
Because, in the pursuit of Justice, there is an ever-present danger that we who seek it, inadvertently pick up the weapons of the oppressor in order to realize it. This passage reminds me that Love is the Way, that the path towards our joint Liberation is not hatred and revenge, but Mercy and Healing.
If we truly want to see things change in our society, shame, condemnation and abuse, will not bring us the sort of change we seek. Deep change, lasting change, happens as we learn to listen to one another, to hear each other’s heart’s, to understand why we believe the things we each believe, and act in the ways that we do. It is easy to characterize those we disagree with as less sincere than ourselves. Whereas “we” (whoever we are) act out of our convictions “they” are just trying to “manipulate people and take them for a ride”.
And yet, I’ve found over the years that most people I engage with, even those on the most extreme opposite side of the political or religious spectrum as me, hold their beliefs as sincerely as I hold mine, and just like me, are seeking to do what they believe is right.
Respectful and meaningful dialogue, the sort of dialogue that brings change, laying the foundation for social transformation, does not begin with misrepresenting another’s perspective or motivations.
If we wish to move any conversation forward, we must first learn to listen to one another, and in listening, seek to understand each other. Only then can we have a meaningful conversation.
It is clear to me that we will not see Justice birthed through movements of shame and condemnation. The sword does not heal.
Real social transformation will only occur when we Love Mercy as much as we Love Justice, when we have the courage to see the person who sits opposite us, when we learn to listen to the one we so fundamentally disagree with.
In the end, the only Way that creates any meaningful path forward is Love.
A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.