Can you really ‘put a lid on it’ if your life is about social justice?

In one of my early professional roles, a mentoring leader once told me that she noticed I carry around a sense of justice with me, and that justice manifests itself in my work. She reminded me that this sense of justice is both a blessing and a curse. She couldn’t have been more right.

Anyone who knows me in London or follows me on Twitter knows that on my personal account (@AMFEngage), I am very vocal in my commentary on social justice (and other) issues in our community. I don’t always use the tact and diplomacy that I was once trained to use, which can be problematic at times. When I see a discourse on issues that affect people, especially when well-being is concerned, I (usually) add my $0.02 in, often for my own satisfaction that I did my part in trying to mitigate the polarization that happens between people when social justice, human rights, or large-scale community issues come to the forefront. I’ve come to love (and equally hate) Twitter for its fodder on justice issues. I’m learning I have a reputation for my “speaking out”, and have been referred to as “edgy”, respected leaders of mine often comment to me about the content of my posts. I’ve heard that my professional colleagues who know me well have coined a term called “The Anne-Marie” – the ability to present oneself professionally, but once justice is involved, the edge comes out… and truthfully, I am not sure how I feel about this.

I grew up in a Catholic family, with a father that was very steadfast in his beliefs and took every opportunity to remind us so. I am daughter to a mother who also has her beliefs, and often shares them, quite eloquently actually, but can get stirred up when she needs to be, especially if the issue at hand is something she has taken a strong stance on. With these examples in my life, combined with a bloodline that combines very strong German, Scottish and Irish genes, I learned at an early age that if you believed in something, believe it with all you are, stand by it, and hold to it unwaveringly so.

The sense of justice that my former leader noticed in me all those years ago goes beyond what is right and wrong. It began on a moral foundation, but is backed up by knowledge, research and a personal commitment to calling out injustice where I see it. This sense of justice is what I can physically feel manifesting inside me as my whole person reacts to what I know is not the way things should be. This sense of justice is what prompts me to sometimes speak in what others may deem “out of turn”. This sense of justice comes from knowing that women, young people, and especially vulnerable populations have been quieted too long. This sense of justice is what led me to dedicate a career to social justice – because in social justice, justice needs to be felt, acted upon, and manifested – however gruelling and even if what you have to say isn’t always what people want to hear.

I’ve been in London for almost a decade now, and it’s a hard place to be a social justice advocate in. It’s a hard place to speak out in, and a hard place to stick your neck out in. It is a conservative place that reacts strongly to strong opinions. Throughout the decade, I’ve had my hands slapped more than once because I commented on something, raised an issue, or spoke about something without its veiled language (also known as truth) where my other responsibilities should have had me practicing constraint.  I have conflicted interests. I’ve misrepresented viewpoints. I’ve contradicted world views. I’ve shed light on something others were desperately trying to cover up. I’ve made passively aggressive comments. I’ve done it all. I’m not all proud of what I’ve done or said throughout my journey in social justice. As a result, I’ve of course, had to try my best to be so mindful about what I post, what I soapbox on, and who may interpret my posts. I don’t always succeed.

I know I need to strike a better balance in the way I use my voice, especially as I advance in my career, where how I represent myself online has a direct correlation to my success and people’s desires to work with me. My father, the man who taught me about being steadfast, as was going through a long illness before he died shared that he had wished he had lived his life less judgemental. “Put down your sword, Tom”, is some advice he had received when his sense of justice overpowered his tact. Sometimes I wish I could put down my sword, and take the weight of the world off my shoulders. But I can’t. People need me. The world needs me. The world needs people like me, however distasteful I may be. While I can always strive to be a bit more tactful and pay close attention to my use of language, I know that I’ll never ever lose that need that I have inherent in my blood, heart, and at my very core, to recognize injustice, call it out, and demand a better world for us all.

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