Practical Steps to Empowering Ourselves against Moral Fatigue*
By Fatima Muhammad
When the Panama papers broke, social justice activists rejoiced. They thought there would be a huge, sustained reaction, a real movement. Surely, people would be so outraged, that they would stand up for their rights! But they were wrong. There was little outcry. Instead, there was sarcasm, resignation, weariness, and cynicism. “Corrupt leaders are corrupt. So what?”, sums up the reaction.
Global violence and bloodshed triggers similar exercises in shoulder shrugging, and the reason is the same – we’ve given up. People feel they can’t make a real difference because they can’t physically stop the violence, or because, other than the occasional donation, they can’t stem the flow of misery coming out through the wounds on humanity. We feel powerless. We’ve accepted the script, and we’re fatigued. Clickbait that makes us chuckle is easier on our minds than being obliged to think about how we’re slowly losing our freedom, our rights to privacy, our natural resources, and our expectations of safety for people in other parts of the world.
This fatigue has more malignant an impact on our morality than the sum total of all the evils being brought to bear on us. It’s a kind of moral obesity – it makes you want to sit on the sofa and stuff your brain with junk food rather than roll your sleeves up and take the world on. Even worse – it makes you exhausted to the point that it becomes difficult to fight temptation. Here are some ways to tackle that fatigue, and keep our sense of outrage alive and pure…
- Don’t give up on people – give up on corrupt social structures
“People are corrupt.” “Don’t trust anyone.” “People from that background are always like that.” These are loser concepts.
Sure, always operate with caution, but know where the blame lies – at the doorstep of unusual circumstances. In extreme situations, ordinary people wind up dehumanising both themselves and others. To combat this, we should celebrate humanity on every level. It has become so easy to objectify and strip agency from real human beings.
Labels do no favours, instead they distract from the real issues. This is what people in power have always done: they demonise immigrants; people of other faiths; people of different skin colours, they know better than we do this kind of thinking is critical to keeping the power imbalance alive and well.
Rather than resigning ourselves to that way of thinking, we should be true revolutionaries and embrace everyone’s potential for goodness – and be properly outraged at injustice… not accept it as inevitable.
- It wasn’t always this way. It can get better again, but only if we see the value in ourselves and stop dismissing the things we do as “small.”
No era in history has been perfect, but matters have never deteriorated on a global level to the extent it has today.
Most crucial to having a vibrant, energetic resistance is to realise evil is temporary. Allah (SWT) says in Surah Bani Isra’il, verse 81,
“surely falsehood is a vanishing (thing).”
We usually attribute this to the advent of the Mahdi, or to the Day of Judgement, but what we fail to realise is that in this verse Allah has given us a clue to the nature of evil – its time runs out eventually. Prod it with the truth, and it’ll curl up and die.
We can never embody the full power of Haq that is present in the Mahdi, but even our attempts to live the Truth in our daily lives on “minor” levels, will obliterate injustice on all levels. When Haq or Truth is brought out into the battlefield, injustice cannot remain.
This can’t happen if we don’t value ourselves and our moral decisions. If we truly value ourselves as individuals, as humans, as people who trust in a higher power, we must be convinced that every good action we do, no matter how small, will have that ripple effect.
- Understand the value of dismantling systems
When we campaign for women’s rights or the rights of minorities, it’s usually with the focus to grant them the same rights as everyone else. This overlooks a glaring problem – becoming just as good a prop as everyone else in the real problem – an inherently broken system. A system that will always find someone or the other to oppress.
Instead of realising that giving vulnerable groups a place at the table is only the first step towards true equality, we think that it’s the entirety of the struggle. We don’t explain to ourselves and to others how that table is just a bad table to be at in the long run. A table that will invite you to sit at it if you make enough noise, but then expects you to engage in the same oppressions as were inflicted upon you.
Inevitably when let down even after being part of the same structures we aspired to, we are afflicted with disappointment and weariness. It makes it feel as though injustice is inevitable.
It isn’t. We just need to build a better table.
- Don’t contribute towards glamourising power
We all remember those halcyon days when our only exposure to Trump was via “The Apprentice.” The show had a lot of followers and fans, and was in a similar vein to “American Idol” and other shows that were enamoured of the Simon Cowell habit of degrading and bullying others.
Today wherever you see glamour, it’s most often built on the backs of someone, somewhere being oppressed. Keep empowering those people and that mindset, and watch how quickly orange faced angry toddlers fill up the White House.
Part of our complacency in being oppressed is because we know we will always be, in some way, complicit in aiding those systems. Why? Because we can’t see ourselves distancing our hearts from ostentatious power. It’s the physical worldly companion of what we often hear will happen on the Day of Judgement – everyone will be raised with the people they love. This isn’t just a metaphysical scare tactic by some invisible man in the sky, it’s a permanent reminder that we sink or swim with the people we invest in emotionally. The more we adore those who oppress on one level or another, the less we will be moved to call out their injustices. On the contrary, seeing through this facade will keep us alert and less liable to give up on resistance.
- Don’t encourage fear
Society will always reward people who bow to fear. They lead trouble-free lives. Even within our communities, when we see domestic problems, we sometimes see people giving advice to submit to the situation rather than rock the boat. This mentality tries to teach us that if you submit to oppression you will be rewarded in other ways. The irony is, having absorbed this belief, victims often find justifications to become oppressors themselves later in life.
To such minds primed to accept and glorify hurtful behaviour at a household level, it is only to be expected that the higher up the ladder you go, the greater the scale of oppression. Resisting tyranny not only seems laughable – but even wrong. This leads to more complacency.
- Keep educating and being educated
Fatigue is only inevitable when the knowledge of problems isn’t translated into actionable solutions. The Prophet has a brilliant saying extremely relevant to social justice:
“Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then [he must change it ] with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart. And that is the slightest [effect of] faith.”
We have so many platforms today where we can talk out about injustice. There are so many specialised areas with an assortment of related issues that impact all of us, yet unless those from our community who are knowledgeable in those areas create a platform, or write or speak about those issues, we won’t even know. People who are educated in areas like technology, medicine, education, journalism and meteorology are more aware of critical issues in that particular realm that will impact the rest of world. They should blog, write, bring those issues to us in terms we can understand.
When we see injustice, when the “truth becomes alone and sad,” we’re encouraged to remember Imam Hussain ibn Ali. This isn’t simply an act of reverence, it’s a refresher on how if, in the climate of our own time, we see social injustice, then no matter how bad things get we are expected to have a response – and that it will ultimately have an impact.
We must remember resignation to the sadder facts of life is antithetical to real change. When we give up on the idea of a better world, evil digs its roots in deeper.
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