Friday, May 04, 2012

Returning to Work

Over the past weekend the Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics, out of which this blog is run, co-hosted a conference on Social Justice and Human Rights--the theme this blog has been picking up on. The conference brought people from many different walks of life together; social advocacy workers, academics, judges, lawyers, activists and other people who are simply concerned citizens (or immigrants) to speak about and listen to a wide range of topics on which social justice and human rights are key concerns. As someone who was there, I can say there was a lot of excitement and the feeling for a great deal of potential moving forward.

Now that the conference has happened, though, the question of course is what next? Topics such as were discussed (things like the rights of children, environmental issues, women's rights, aboriginal rights, immigration and movement rights, and disability rights, as well as inter-religious dialogue on the question of human rights in Canada, etc) are too important to simply talk about and then let go. Speaking and listening are only the first steps. Reflecting on that question--what next?--the answer that came to me was everyone returns to their work.

At first such an answer felt too obvious and as though nothing of what was said or done mattered if we all just went back to work. Of course everyone returns to their work. We all have food to put on the table, bills to be paid. Aren't issues of justice and rights bigger than that? Well, yes. But as I continued reflecting, I began to have a deeper understanding of the word work. On the one hand, the majority of people who attended this conference are doing work in their professional lives that is directly concerned in one way or another with the conference themes--hence, returning to work will mean re-engaging with issues of social justice and human rights, now perhaps with an expanded vocabulary of rights, or renewed hope, or heightened urgency, or new ideas for partnering to make important and necessary things happen. Surely that much at least is true. But in addition to that sense of work as one's profession, I thought about a term that I heard conference presenters and participants use again and again in describing what they were doing: calling or vocation. And when I thought through that, I realized that this conference was not so much a "Big Event" or interruption of daily life and work but rather a part of people's work--whether their professional work, or as something they "worked on" outside their professional lives.

Humans are social creatures, I think that much is safe to say. One theme that seemed to run through many of the sessions of which I was a part was an emphasis on relationships, and on healing, strengthening and building relationships in order to have a more just and less violent society. When we, humans, gather together as a group and share food, drink, conversation, work, hope, fear, and open up to each other, relationships are healed, strengthened and built. We all know too that relationships, in order to stay healthy, need that deep but elusive word: work. Coming out of this gathering of people, this conference, we all go back to work. I'm working on it we say when there is a problem we are trying to address, an issue that needs to be resolved. And we are working on issues of social justice and human rights.

What shape does this work take after our gathering? That is what will be sorted out in the coming months. For myself, I know I will continue writing (and reading) on this blog as a forum for discussing issues and, hopefully, potential solutions. I'll be following up in other ways on connections made during the conference, and on trying to distill conference themes into a format that others can engage with. I'll have some more thinking and reflecting to do as I process much of what was said. I know many others are already engaged in similar work. Moving forward while we all return to work, I invite everyone to keep up the conversations begun already and to see how our social abilities (and disabilities) can reflect in positive ways on the work we do for a more just and healthy society.

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