Trendy Social Justice

There is a post I’ve noticed that has popped up on Twitter recently. It appeared after the bombing in Boston and after the tornado in Oklahoma. Every month or so, there’s a new variation. It’s a post that is disguised in altruism but has roots in our consumer-obsessed culture. It usually looks something like this:

I just donated $5 to [insert popular cause here]. Click here to show your support! #sogenerous

On its own, this tweet isn’t very harmful. In fact, it’s probably effective at both raising awareness of certain causes and monetary support for those in need. A post like this becomes dangerous when it becomes co-opted by someone to appear compassionate or, even worse, popular. Has social justice become trendy like the newest fashions or the latest Jay-Z album?

If you are passionate about an issue, it’s natural to want to shout your support from a mountain top. In our media based culture, our mountain tops are Twitter Peak and Mt. Facebook. But for those who are on the outside looking in, how do you decide which causes are worthy of your support. It’s not an easy decision. There are an insane amount of causes vying for your support—from ending world poverty to helping pets owned by veterans to supporting your local non-profit organization—and they all want you to care about their message.

It’s no wonder that the most popular causes are the ones with the best marketing strategies. The causes who can sell their stories in the most captivating way are usually the ones who have the most followers. I think of movements like Kony 2013 which was able to rally millions of people quickly and effectively. Popularity doesn’t diminish the significance of the cause. In fact, other organizations should probably be learning from those that are successful. But in our trend-obsessed culture, what happens when the followers jump from cause to cause because they’re following the next cause that’s trending up?

Trends aren’t necessarily a bad thing but they can become an idol that we chase after to make sure we’re staying in the spotlight. If we’re jumping from cause to cause—chasing the elusive beast that is popularity—what are the implications on our ability to do what is right? As our convictions grow fickle, we are less likely to follow through with what we claim to support. As a long-serving staff member of a non-profit organization, I would be weary of volunteers or donors who are jumping on because we’re the cause of the month. Their support is greatly appreciated at the time but I know that we’ll be looking for more support as soon as we drop a few spots on the popularity charts. I believe we need to learn how to commit to something whether or not it’s popular or not. Instead, we need to be committed to something because its the right thing to do.

Commitment isn’t easy and it’s not something that can be taken lightly. I can understand the appeal of a commitment free lifestyle, not being tied down to one thing seems like it can be freeing. But commitment allows you to invest fully into something which brings its own kind of freedom. That freedom to do something, and to do it well, is what the most important causes deserve. If we’re not able to commit to something, then what are we besides chaff blowing in the wind? Our words must be backed up by our actions. So the next time you decide to show your support for the latest trendy social justice cause, be sure its something you fully support because its right. Not because you want to appear popular.

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