Do We Have a Moral Obligation to Promote Social Justice?

What does it mean to be a good person? If born into privilege, is one morally obligated to share the wealth? I certainly don’t have the answer, but the question seems worth pondering. 

When born into relative privilege, do we have an obligation to actively promote social justice and give back to those less fortunate than ourselves?

When born with privilege, particularly above average privilege, do we have a moral obligation to pay it forward? If presented with a great lot in life, can we consider ourselves “good people” if we share little of that good fortune with others less “lucky” than ourselves?

What exactly constitutes being a “good person”? Is hard work combined with general kindness toward and respect for others enough? Or do privilege and social responsibility climb a ladder together; with more of one comes more of the other?

And if we “should” share, how much?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but they’ve been on my mind as of late.

While I know everyone is entitled to an opinion, I’m starting to believe we (or maybe I) do have a moral obligation to pay it forward and that privilege and responsibility climb in lockstep.

What Do You Think? 

I also really wonder where others stand on this. I know there isn’t a single answer, but it’s definitely worth a conversation.

For as long as I can remember, and particularly since college, I’ve felt an obligation percolating in the back of mind compelling me to be more generous with my resources. I participated in some community service in college and have donated sporadically to causes important to me and important to those around me. But to be totally honest, it’s a voice I’ve mostly ignored. This is not something I’m proud of.

My five year “stewardship” plan, as limited as it is, includes volunteering as a family once our children are a bit older. I’ve looked into serving for social justice organizations that resonate with me. And I think a lot about what causes stick with me, hoping to land on one that really strikes a chord in my heart. There are plenty of great ones, but I’m still searching for the one or two about which I’m passionate.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words 

But let’s be honest. All that thinking and planning don’t carry much weight without action.

A few conversations with friends and family about this topic collided recently with a campaign from one of my favorite Instagram and YouTube families (with whom you may be familiar), The Bucket List Family. This young family, after landing on a large amount of money selling an app to Snapchat, set out on a minimalist journey around the world.

Throughout their journey, they’ve paid forward their good fortunes to everyday people in various ways. Recently, they decided to fund a special school in India and asked their social media followers to join forces with them. Because of their large fortune, they received quite a bit of criticism for not just funding the school themselves. They could easily afford it after all.

Better Together

I disagree, though, with this criticism. I think it’s important for all of us to play a role in sharing our own wealth of time and money. By contributing even a small amount, whatever fits our budget to this or another worthy cause, we become more invested in the cause. We connect more deeply to the people being served by those dollars or hours, and we invest our hearts more in the issues. With our own resources at stake, we aren’t just watching from the sidelines.

We can’t all donate our time and money to every cause. But we can judiciously choose to share our wealth of resources with those more in need than us in respects closest to our hearts.

This Leaves Me Wondering

What more can I do? What more should I do? Right now, I definitely have room for improvement.

This voice of social justice hanging out as a backdrop in my mind and heart feeds the conscious consumption movement I’ve embraced on my blog over the last year or so. I won’t change the world alone by making more thoughtful purchasing and lifestyle decisions, but we can collectively make a big difference by all making small changes. While undoubtedly I can be a better promoter for social justice, at least my voice and purchasing power are passively contributing to a greater good for now.

For most of us, including me, life presents a laundry list of reasons why “now” isn’t the right time to get involved. For the majority of us, I highly doubt “the perfect time” will miraculously come upon us. Social justice efforts won’t be sending us calendar invites for wide open slots on our calendars. We have to make time and set aside money to support the initiatives about which we care most deeply.

Being an active advocate of social equality and justice takes a conscious effort. So does that mean being a “good person” is more than just a passive exercise?

When born into relative privilege, do we have an obligation to actively promote social justice and give back to those less fortunate than ourselves?

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  1. I think you have confused Social Justice with charity. Both are laudible pursuits that display compassion, but are very different. Every example of how you envision contributing involves giving time and resources to help those who are economically disadvantaged. Social Justice involves working towards ending bias and descrimination, hence the justice part. I applaud your desire to help others. The desire to help is more important than the path it takes me

    1. Hi Erik – Thanks for your comment and really appreciate the thoughtful feedback. I know many of the things I mentioned above relate to sharing money and time (volunteering and donating) and often that involves charity. However, I think there was a bit more to my post than just volunteering and donating; I intended to convey questions about whether I should be using my privilege (whether that be through time, money or influence I may or may not have) to be supporting efforts that are working toward equality (which is essentially the definition of social justice). While I recognize that social justice involves far more than charity, I think charity / volunteering / donating is a component of many social justice movements. At least from my perspective, most social justice projects / movements require time from advocates and funding. I think social justice advocacy could happen in so many ways, but I don’t think it excludes doing things like volunteering at or donating to charities that promote equality, education, race relations projects, etc…
      Further, throughout my post, I talk about generally taking actions that promote equality and just being a more thoughtful and intentional voice to advocate for those with less privilege. I think that’s a component of social justice. I appreciate your comment and know that is highlights discussion topics around these important issues.I will continue thinking more critically about how my actions promote true social justice vs just supporting charities.

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