I am stepping aside from my blogging about my experience at M.D. Anderson to share a personal reflection. There is currently a motion before the Representative Assembly to remove the term "social justice" from our code of ethics and it has sparked some debate about what social justice is and isn't and it's appropriateness for our official documents.
A word about me to frame my experience. I am currently in a REALLY great place professionally. After 26 years of hard work, good fortune and amazing mentorship I have my dream job and frankly I am very well compensated for it. I worked really hard to get to where I am and I believe that I deserve the job and the opportunity. I do not come from a privileged background; just a typical middle class family with parents with solid family values who worked very hard to provide me all the opportunities they could. I got through college on student loans and part-time jobs and have supported myself ever since.
I just got back from my 5 mile morning run around Rice University in Houston. As I ran I passed other runners (students and local residents), the Houston Zoo, beautiful upscale homes around Hermann Park and a fair share of Houston's homeless population. To be blunt, there is one spot in my run near the zoo where there are park benches packed full with sleeping individuals and it is hard to tell if the smell of urine is from the zoo animals or the bushes in this particular spot.
I have never worked directly with a homeless shelter but I have worked in supportive housing settings with persons who were recently homeless. I am no expert on homelessness but have read enough to believe that sure, there might be the odd individual out there on those park benches who is just lazy, unmotivated and looking for a handout; but much more likely is the case that most if not all are homeless because they have faced the challenges of mental illness, addiction or other social problems that we have not been able to figure out yet. Please forgive me if there is an unintentional stereotype in there; I mean no disrespect.
I am not an expert on social justice but I believe I have read more about it than probably the average practitioner and believe I have a solid understanding of the range of thinking and types of strategies proposed by proponents of social justice. My coauthors and I did a pretty extensive literature review on social justice and related terms (e.g. distributive justice, procedural justice and occupational justice) as we prepared our articles for the special issue of AJOT on social justice in 2009.
I sometimes see the suggestion that a social justice philosophy "requires" or "demands" redistribution of wealth; taking from the "haves" and giving to the "have nots." Most recently I have read suggestions that have politicized the term and ties it to particular strategies for addressing social issues such as our recent health care reform (the Affordable Care Act) and even those that tie the term "social justice" to a specific political party or parties.
I fully acknowledge; some proponents of social justice may also support increased government support and involvement in addressing social injustice, might support increased taxation and increased regulation or government intervention. However, the two do not go hand in hand. Anytime you hear someone suggest that social justice "demands" redistribution of wealth or taking resources from one group to another, say "prove it." Ask the individual to identify the specific framework, philosopher, theory, model, or that "demands" this and then point to the thousands and thousands and thousands of non-profit groups around the U.S. and the world that work solely to prevent systematic injustice without ever asking for a dime of government money, intervention or regulation.
Social justice is not tied to a singular political belief. There are Republican proponents of social justice, there are Tea Party proponents of social justice, and there are Democratic proponents of social justice.
The presence of the term "social justice" in our official documents DOES NOT demand any particular strategy for addressing a social issue such as homelessness. It does not demand government involvement at all; it does demand our involvement as occupational therapists and as human beings. Addressing the systematic challenges to occupational participation experienced by the less fortunate in our society is completely congruent with the philosophies and underpinnings that gave rise to the birth of our profession almost 100 years ago. The inclusion of social justice in our code of ethics demands that as a profession, we assume responsibility to work as part of the larger social structure to address ongoing social problems such as homelessness.
I understand that some persons object to the term social justice for a variety of reasons and am fully aware that some of those same individuals are wonderfully altruistic and give of their time and money to the less fortunate, charities etc. I also am aware that some believe that the term "social justice" should be removed from our Code of Ethics while maintaining the underlying values of social responsibility. While I disagree with them strongly about the value of the term social justice, I fully respect their opinion and the choice to bring a motion before the Representative Assembly. I mean no offense or disrespect to those members who have authored the motion before the RA, and I hope that is clear.
Well, as I said.....some ramblings, now off to work!
Nice summary, Brent. Were you able to (or interested!) in reading the blog post I linked about the developing lexicon in occupational science?
If you did, I would be interested in talking to you about some of what I wrote in there. However, if all the oxygen has left the room because of the other conversation I fully understand!
The RA proposal is interesting and has merit - but actually I am kind of interested in the topic more as it relates to how we are framing our practice interactions. That is what I was getting at in my blog post.
I have not had the opportunity yet......I feel like I have been chasing my own tail trying to explain what I have and have not said.
I will make the point to read your thoughts though. I would love to write an "The Issue Is piece" and need someone with a different perspective for balance :)
Thank you for not letting us fall into a "label and dismiss" mindset.