Shift the Paradigm!
In this article that originally appeared in Cooking Together, the UUA Justice GA blog, Deborah Holder argues that by shifting our paradigm from one of retributive justice we unlock great potential for effecting change amongst ourselves – for example by creating inter-generational response to injustice – and in the larger world.
Enacting Justice: Questioning the Paradigm
Whatever the issue area, be it Occupy Wall Street, immigrant integration, or how we are together in religious community, whether we’re conscious of it or not, a paradigm is operative. A paradigm is a mindset or set of assumptions, often unexamined, about how things happen. It’s the way we shape and understand information; it reflects our perceptions and approach to problem-solving.
For example, our Unitarian Universalist justice ministries operate within a paradigm – a set of assumptions that inform our approach to social change as a gathered religious community. Precisely because paradigms and their accompanying symbols are so influential, it’s important that we pause and reflect on what we mean when professing to be a justice-seeking people. In an age as divided and prone to violence as our own, what kind of “justice” do we seek? What models or paradigms are most appropriate and in alignment with our covenantal faith tradition Beloved Community religious vision?
Many, if not most of us, were taught and then socialized into a retributive justice paradigm. This justice model, symbolized by revenge and punishment, informs our criminal justice system and historically, has shaped the strategy and tactics of most secular social change organizations. We’re all relatively familiar with its characteristics and methods: define the problem and find fault by targeting individuals or institutions; mobilize anger and resentment by crafting fear-based messages, adopt a language of demand and control often in the form of public shaming and apply the use of, or threat of, emotional, psychological, and physical violence. The unintended, often tragic consequence of such a de-humanizing model is change agents can become mirror images of the very attitudes and behaviors we’re hoping to change. Admittedly over-simplified here, it’s still the case a retributive justice paradigm pits people against one another, often preventing the common good from emerging, and, I believe, is a model that has outlived its usefulness most especially in the context of religious community.
Visit the Cooking Together blog to read the rest of Deborah Holder’s article
The Rev. Deborah Holder is Minister for Beloved Community Formation of the The Mountain Desert District of the UUA.