Human beings love shortcuts. Hacks, we call them. Anything that lessens or promises to lessen the amount of time and effort spent on a task, especially a complicated task, is considered a valuable hack. So we have things like 10 quick ways to get a flat tummy; how to earn 10K in two weeks; 5 tips to be more confident; 3 quick ways to attract a man; or apps that do all or most of the work for us, like Tinder.
There’s nothing wrong with finding efficient ways to solve problems. We could actually argue that shortcuts are part of human nature. But they do come burdened with a misconception: that easy or fast is better, AND that our proclivity to want shortcuts is forever wired into our DNA.
Most of our desire for easy solutions is a learned response. As we become socialised in our families and social environments we eventually learn that complexity, hardness and certainly any kind of suffering is frowned upon. It means something particular when something takes too long to achieve or when we struggle to get what we want. Over time, we come to associate promptness and ease with success and happiness. We have the added pressure of living in a technology-driven world where we can get things we desire at a click of a button. So why must we wait or sweat too much for something we want?
It’s not only in our personal lives where we employ these shortcuts; we also do it collectively as a culture. We prefer to bypass pain or discomfort because for the most part, whether we see it or not, we’re trained happiness pawns. If you’re not happy you must be doing something wrong in your life, is the unspoken framework. It’s the flavour of the culture and we easily get swept up in it, judging ourselves and others by it.
Just person: a person who is wholly equitable, kind and loving to self and others.
With justice it’s a little more subtle: it’s easier to talk about it than it is to actually do it. The shortcuts we use here are tailored to make ourselves feel comfortable with doing the barest minimum. We don’t want to feel overwhelmed or ashamed so we keep it simple: we focus on espousing ideals about just societies. We even rationalise laws. But there remains a disconnect between our ideals and what we are and do on a daily basis. Justice is more than the theories we formulate about it. It’s no use believing you want to live in a fair society when you go about showing favouritism to certain groups of people in your own life. It is not justice if it does not hold up what it is purported to do. That is simply an illusion.
Fortunately, there is no quick way to becoming the kind of people who embody the kind of justice we want to see in the world. It’s a process. And processes unfold in stages. There are three things that are fundamental to this process:
No. 1. Time
Time is everything when it comes to growth. Especially emotional and mental growth, which involves shedding old skins and old identities. One of the first steps to becoming just is seeing ourselves as we are, not exactly perfect and not exactly terrible either; but something in the middle – very much capable of acting unjustly towards others and ourselves and at the same time very much capable of being loving and kind. It takes time to see ourselves as we truly are. We spend the first half of our lives being conditioned to survive in the world. At some point, as if roused from a deep sleep, we come to see these conditionings for what they are – armoury against pain and fear. We spend the last half of our lives unlearning many of those habituations. There is a lot of time that goes into this; and into cultivating an awareness that is transformative.
One of the best things I’ve learned over the years is the beauty of slowing down. We’re a culture of busy people, always going to and fro. We worry about time, not having enough of it. This is why we believe in hacks – to buy back time.
But the truth of why we don’t like to slow down is more confronting: we are afraid of facing ourselves without the toys and identities that keep us busy and hidden. We don’t really like what we see when we don’t have our masks on, or even worse, we don’t know who we really are.
Time is not our enemy. It’s a teacher. To become anything, especially something real and tested, takes time. Just as Rome was not built in day, there is no quick hack that can make you a true lover and custodian of justice.
No. 2. Healing
It’s impossible to talk about injustice without talking about healing. Wherever there’s injustice, there is not a shortage of pain, trauma, rupture, disruption and violence. For some people this happens right on their physical bodies. Black bodies are the living example of this. Without healing these breaches, it’s hard to restore connection between people. There is a correlation between healed people and embodied justice. The more wounds a person has healed the more open and willing they are to see other people as worthy of forgiveness, kindness, service and empathy. This is why making justice entirely a mental project never works. The things that make our society unjust are all the wounds we carry around and act out on each other. As we know, it is a perpetual cycle – hurt people hurt people.
So there is no becoming just without healing your own wounds even as you accommodate other people’s healing.
Here are a few points to always keep in mind:
a) Healing is not about transcending yourself.
I used to think I would be healed once I just stopped doing all the awful things I did to myself – the bad habits, the negative thoughts. I was under the impression I could beat myself into shape somehow. But healing doesn’t work like that.
All I was doing was treating the symptoms not the cause. This is why healing is not a mental project. Part of healing is accepting yourself – the awful things that happened to you when you had no say in the matter, when you didn’t know any better; it’s forgiving yourself and others; It’s being human and allowing those hurts to be honoured and moved through.
b) Healing is a process.
You will need to revisit the hollow places again and again until the fissure no longer causes you pain; when a wound is healed it stops hurting you. Instead there will be curiosity to the moments that would otherwise trigger you and you’ll be able to respond from a place where your body and mind are aligned. This takes time. You can’t rush yourself. And we, collectively, can’t rush people to get over stuff simply because it’s uncomfortable for us. As a society we are terrible at collective healing. It makes us uncomfortable to hear black people share stories of how violent they find white racism and the white indifference to their pain. But that is a process that needs to be walked through. Because healing is a process it requires time (this goes back to point no 1.), patience and grace; lots of grace.
c) You can’t program healing.
You can’t add it to your to-do list in the morning and then tick it off in the evening. That would be amazing. Healing rarely works with an approach that uses hard mental energy – that’s forcing matters; checklists and mind control. The kind of healing that makes bone-deep difference is the more gentle, somatic kind where you’ve made space and allowed to simply be with your pain. This will probably be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. But the beauty is the more healed we are, the more able we become to have real relationships with each other, and the more we learn to accommodate each other’s humanity. This makes it the better pathway to true justice.
No. 3. Presence
Being present is probably the most powerful tool we have for personal or cultural reformation. The only control we ever have in any given situation is always in the present moment. We can’t make decisions for the past, and the only decisions that affect the future are the ones we make today. If then we are unable to engage with life as it happens, it follows that we will find being just very challenging. Have you ever noticed how people demanding justice want it NOW? This is not because these people are demanding and unrealistic – no, by nature, justice is designed to be meted out swiftly and clearly. Because to not be just in the present means we are allowing injustice to endure.
To be clear, I’m not referring to the presence we cultivate using our ego where we work ourselves up into a performance of our presence. Insert here body techniques like power posing or wide-leg stances. While there’s nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves, they simply do not capture the heart of presence – equal interest in self and others. Presence is more than a technique to make yourself more appealing to your audience. It is about connection. And connection cannot be faked; you can’t fake it till you make it.
We are conditioned to perform ourselves, and to think of our lives as ideas or concepts as opposed to something real and alive in the present moment. The trouble with performance is that it is about control. We are motivated to regulate and shape people’s perceptions of us, like a magician. Presence is never, ever about control.
A more tangible description for presence is being embodied. It’s experiencing yourself as you while experiencing others as who they are in the very same moment and in real time.
For time and healing to be effective in our lives both require that we be present for them.
When we allow time to be a friend, we create the space to be present with the healing that needs to start before we can fully embody justice. This process allows the justice to merge with who we are at the core to the point where we can’t help but be just. It will be our way of life and not simply words we say when we conveniently want to be thought of as the good person; nor will it be a quote or meme we put up on our instagram account to show our support for black lives matter. Justice will be who are.
The process of becoming just is not for the faint hearted. It takes work. It takes commitment. And it takes time. But the only way in is through. Through is unravelling yet the fruit it produces is beautiful beyond words, a just human being able to relate to others in a just way.
ACTION: Stay away from hacks for 2 weeks. See what it’s like to not hack something. What does it feel like? Integrate some of the discomfort that comes up. Repeat.