Bringing the "Real Me" to Justice-Seeking
Because things in my temperament, personality and character fight against my desire to work in justice spaces, I have had to go on a journey inward.
In the 1960s when I put on a baseball uniform, I imagined myself as Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. My chosen jersey number was 5—just like Johnny, my icon of greatness. I never even sniffed his level of ability, but that childlike idealization still pops up in my life.
Concerning justice-seeking, my idealized self is bold and courageous, never swayed by inevitable pushback, living fearlessly before an audience of one—God. I wish I could bring this idealized self to my work.
The reality, the great challenge, is that I bring my real self. My idealized self only exists in my imagination. It is of no use to anyone.
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There is potential for justice-seeking in my authentic self, but there is also a frustrating inner reality that works against me. It’s like your back going out, preventing you from doing what you wanted to do: exercise, clean the house, or trim the hedges. We get frustrated because we had intended to work, but a bodily reality keeps us from it.
Because things in my temperament, personality and character fight against my desire to work in justice spaces, to be useful to the external world around me, I have had to go on a journey inward. Each of us is capable of change. We can become more loving, less selfish, and increasingly servanthearted. The key to such change is to reorder our desires. We must want to be different for the sake of others.
The Real Me
I have mixed feelings about personality inventories. They can be fun to kibbitz about. They can help teams work better through self-understanding. They can reveal important things about us that were previously subconscious. But something in me always protests a little bit: “I can’t be reduced to a number, a string of letters, or a keyword!”
Nevertheless, the tests I have taken and then processed with a counselor or coach have been helpful. We are all starting from a different experience basis; we come from different demographics; we have diverse personalities, temperaments, gift-mixes and geographic contexts.
Strength Finders revealed to me that my top strengths are positivity, ideation, and relator. I can see the possibilities and potential in most any circumstance. I always have ideas for doing something, for moving forward. And because I get energy from it, I like to do such work with other people.
That sounds like a decent personal profile for justice-seeking, right? Except: injustice and evil seem intractable. Nothing seems to ever change. The coming of justice is slower than a sloth. My personality does not handle that truthful reality well. When my ideas don’t bear quick fruit, when relationships frustrate me, I am tempted to give up and find something more positive to do.
In Enneagram terms, I am a 9. I am a peaceful person. I don’t typically rock the boat. Rather, my nature is to blend in. I am customarily accommodating, pleasant and agreeable. I am calm. I avoid conflict in favor of finding harmonies. I tend to be gentle and considerate of others, seeking their well-being.
After typing that paragraph, I thought, “Wow—that ought to be a decent fellow!” But again, there are challenges that my real self brings to justice-seeking.
For instance, consistent justice-seeking will always rock someone’s boat. Furthermore, I can’t simultaneously accommodate the status quo and challenge it. I can’t avoid conflict, division and rejection, and seek to stop oppression and injustice. Nothing in me wants to cause trouble, but I have learned about “good trouble” from the legendary U.S. Representative John Lewis.
According to Myers-Briggs, I am an ENFP. This means I genuinely care about others and am good at understanding what people are feeling. But because caring for one group will predictably upset another group, I’ve seen my empathy to turn to inertia.
Formed Well to Love Well
Over the last few years, I have learned that to love well, to work for the good of others as a justice-seeker, to live a consistent life of creative goodness for the sake of others, I have to leverage my best self. At the same time, I have had to confront and seek to transform the parts of me that make steady justice-seeking difficult. I carry on. Determined. Steadfast. Hopeful.
There is a spiritual tradition, a body of wisdom associated with justice-seeking. It tells us that no one who seeks the wellbeing of others does so as a perfect person—all potential, no flaws. Saints—in the sense of practically perfect—are rare. I’ve read many stories of notable people who worked closely with the poor or who worked for racial justice. Each of these prominent servants knew their inner, hidden shortcomings.
What did they do? Without the benefit of personality tests, they unflinchingly noticed what was real about themselves, then rededicated themselves and their work to God. They embraced the simultaneity: to work for others, they had to work in themselves. They gave themselves to the Lordship of Jesus; they invited and welcomed the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. They became the best vessel possible from which the healing, repair, benevolence and justice of God could flow.
I am constantly trying to walk the trail created by these women and men. I invite you to join me on this journey of hope. I believe that we can, by the power of the Spirit working in and with us, grow into people who are effective justice-seekers and peacemakers.