Learning How to Make a Difference in Our World
What prevents us from directly and regularly engaging in social justice work? So many of us want to make a difference and help to repair what is broken in our world, and yet, it can often feel overwhelming. Instead of doing anything, we feel frozen; we sit at home reading articles or watching other people’s actions posted on social media. What can push us past thought toward action?
In my experience and opinion, the tipping point for action is training. Social justice classes, seminars, groups – all the different intentional experiences that fall under the category of “trainings” – are essential to move us from the mere desire to act to true action. Through these trainings, participants gain community, confidence, and concrete knowledge in order to act with purpose and presence.
I recommend every reader seek out a training opportunity to gain concrete knowledge, help see themselves as part of a community, and acquire the inner confidence needed to stand up to systemic oppression.
Trainings are the perfect environment to create organic community. Instead of a random group of people coming together, trainings attract like-minded individuals who are both open to and interested in learning. Since trainings are often held in university, religious, or communal spaces, they will appeal to those who are already active in their community. A social justice training also often appeals to those with a curious and interested mind-set, including individuals who not only want to participate in civil and communal life, but also are seeking relationships with others like them. They may be people who already are active in their faith or other community, or who are likely to go beyond their safe and comfortable circles. One of the tremendous benefits of attending trainings is the interwoven circles of community to which each participant becomes immediately connected.
By attending even one single training, an individual can become linked in what I think of as a shalshelet hatikkun, a chain of repair, that has the power to right the wrongs of our world through thoughtful and direct action.
Confidence is often tied to our sense of self and a lack of confidence is connected to having experienced powerlessness. Trainings create the opportunity for dedicated, passionate individuals to work through their own experiences of oppression, inequality, or trauma so that they might find inner strength. To speak truth to power, it is essential for leaders in community organizations to understand their own feelings of power and powerlessness. In multi-day trainings, it is possible to first work through one’s own personal experiences and then build the self-confidence that will be critical in the work of organizing and justice.
Despite the relative ease with which we can access information on every facet of social justice, dissemination of misinformation can also be widespread. In the age of Google, nothing feels as authentic as going to an in-person training session with live professionals whose goal is to impart knowledge about how a group of dedicated individuals can effect constructive change.
Here are three reasons to attend a community organizing or social justice training:
1. To learn firsthand from experts and seasoned organizers
2. To rehearse, build confidence, and work through any personal issues
3. To meet like-minded individuals and build community
In the years since I attended my first IAF training, I have found myself in many similar rooms focused on training that passes on the knowledge born of experience. Every time I walk out of those rooms – often at the end of a long day or days – I have the same feelings: humility for all I do not know, hunger to make a difference, and a sense of hurry to get to work. After all, the world isn’t going to fix itself.
This essay is excerpted from a chapter written by Rabbi Karen R. Perolman that appears in Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice, recently published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).