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the fun in social justice

i commit to writing a blog post exploring the fun in social justice.

once again, northern voice, vancouver’s annual blogging and social media conference, was a lot of fun. two inspiring sessions were about making a difference in the world: one about doing good by darren barefoot, and another about social media and social justice by ajay masala puri and jeremy osborn. the one about social justice, which took place outside in the grass on a beautiful sunny afternoon, challenged all participants to commit to doing one thing towards social justice.

social justice plays a relatively large part in my life – among other things, it’s one of the categories here on this blog. also, right now i work for an organization that is entirely dedicated to social justice, the mennonite central committee. as i was thinking about a possible commitment it occurred to me that while i do dedicate a good of amount of my time and some of my money to social justice, there are moments when the term seems a bit heavy, maybe a little too serious. that’s how i came up with the commitment of looking at the fun side of social justice. fun is important for me; fun sustains me. it makes sense, then, to invest something in the fun side of this – it’ll keep my interest in social justice going! so here are a few thoughts on the fun part of social justice.

volunteering
each and every organization committed to social justice started out as a volunteer project, and i know of no social justice organization that doesn’t still rely heavily on volunteers. the cool thing about volunteering is that it can be tons of fun. who wouldn’t want to volunteer for the vancouver laughter mission society? how about collecting kids’ artwork for the canadian flowers for food society? one of the volunteer jobs i had a lot of fun with was organizing a fancy english afternoon tea party in the middle of the drug-infested downtown eastside to help collect money for bus fare for people who couldn’t afford it to go to doctors’ appointments, job interviews, etc. volunteering can give you a carte blanche – whatever you want to do, you can probably find a non-profit organization who will want to engage your services for it.

novelty
people engaged in social justice are often leading-edgers, pioneers. i think that’s why social justice and social media go so well together – they both tend to attract those of us who will never be happy unless we’re standing right at the cliff, looking at new possibilities, new landscapes. there’s such an excitement that comes with trying out something that no-one has ever done before (one reason why raul and i are so into mental health camp).

super cool people
and the people you meet! fascinating! one of my co-workers has assisted first nations people for decades – but he also has an awesome bluegrass band. another one of my coworkers, who is incapable of going through a week at work without coming up with at least one completely novel way to help our clients, has worked with the amish, busted his chops as a waiter in japan, and researched thai monks somewhere in a remote forest. granted, you can meet interesting people anywhere, but i don’t know of any other sector where the company of stimulating people is so easy to come by as in social justice circles.

community building
“it’s fun, you walk up and down the street and you know everybody. you sit and chat with people and you hang out,” says my friend micha, who works with a group that does neighbourhood-based restorative justice. of course there’s many ways of building community but again, people who feel passionate about striving for a common, elusive goal such as social justice – they just build a special kind of community.

where have you found fun in social justice?

bryan alexander improv

unable to hear internet legend’s bryan alexander’s keynote address at northern voice (the reverb was awful), i decided to turn it into an experiment. for about 15 minutes, i recorded the words i could hear (maybe every 10th word or so), then i categorized them and turned them into an improv style remix. here is bryan alexander (captured by bionicteaching), and below him, the remix

bryan alexander at university of richmond

good design minimizes confusion and empowers the user. good design is for anyone. so many anyones, they are a whole congregation. the first generation of users talked to nobody. that raised a lot of eyebrows, even frankensister’s. but then, brother, the creature changed, although not into a mouse. the congregation became an audience; there was a different character to it. they changed from puppets to humans – great human characters! “and that character acts,” said kathy sierra to bryan and sean, “it has footsteps! if you do it right, they will pay you the great fee of attention.”

at that point, everyone started thinking and reflecting and more thinking, and they came up with reasons and answers. there were times in 20th century technology, not like right now, where you simply began with two things: a new game, and a moment of confusion. you couldn’t just jump from china to the united states, that would have killed you. you would have become a casualty of science fiction horror stories, landing in the eerie, creepy graveyard that everyone fears. but then it’s never the shininess that pulls us in but the darkness.

let’s get back to technology, like twitter, twitter and more twitter. or turn on the TV, and you have virtual reality! media infects your computer when you download a podcast or some videos from flickr. actually, there are some series of videos i can’t really describe, they’re new gadgets (but really new versions of old machines).

how spirited they are! amazing! what a great way to design things! the intensity sure gets our attention. excellent! it brings up people’s self esteem – aaaah! very attractive, a wonderful gift to the world.

and what is that gift, you ask? it’s text! it’s storytelling. yeah, stories about science fiction, stories about writing stories. their titles can be so good, they themselves bring in large amounts of comments. stories are important. stories are the keynote.

of course, this needs to be explained, even though it’s not explainable. it’s a puzzle but it can be explained in part. you like a sense of mystery, don’t you? it’s a surprise. it brings contrast into your life. surprise is crucial, it’s a shocking shift to suddenly reveal the mysterious, to make it visible. like in a murder mystery. mystery, of course, is a thing of speed. it’s about the hidden chamber, the pregnant pause, the sense of awe and terror that comes with just a few very strange shadows …

and that brings energy into the design, an extra force. the power of it is engaging, it pulls us in. at the same time, we must draw on the balance of power. “it needs to be expressed,” she said, and after a moment of friction, it can be dumped, if only reluctantly.

all of this can lead to addiction. but there are a lot of ways. if you’ve ever heard the twilight, you’ll find out that it’s designed so that the covers are the series. it’s a classic, classic endemic economy that sets you up to trust each other. it can look like a facsimile, and i understand that concerns you.

you are silent now.

but you have the scoop.

good design is mysterious.