More than a Warrior: The Social Justice Hero


I will be honest, I have some difficulty wrapping my head around how “social justice warrior” became an insult. After all, doesn’t our society typically reserve some respect for warriors, particularly when they are fighting for a noble cause such as justice? That said, there’s a big difference between fighting for justice, and winning that fight. Today’s post will center on what it means to be a social justice “hero” as opposed to a “warrior.”

Hero (n):

a :  a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability

b :  an illustrious warrior

c :  a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities

d :  one who shows great courage

When you’re fighting to make a positive impact in the world, it’s not just the thought that counts. However, fighting for social justice is in itself a courageous act, so by definition (d), any social justice warrior is automatically a hero. Although fighting for justice is certainly admirable (and far superior to the alternative), I will set the bar for heroism a bit higher than that. For the sake of balance, I am also realistic enough to set aside definition (a), which is basically the stuff of fairy tales. Instead I am taking a practical look at what makes a social justice warrior a hero – victory in “battle.” Here are some examples:

The Battle of Charity & Volunteering

When it comes to making a positive impact in the world, one of the greatest weapons at your disposal is cold, hard cash.* By giving directly to causes that are important to you, you can help improve education and healthcare, decrease poverty, and make life easier for people in need in your community or around the world. Since time is money, I’ve decided to lump charity and volunteerism together as the same battle.

Win: To win at charity, you have to give to causes that are both aligned with your own interests, but also have a meaningful positive impact on the community, and the same goes for volunteering. As a volunteer, it is much easier to know if your work is having an impact – often the people who you work with will tell you directly. As a donor, you may have to read between the lines. Look up information about the charity (or charities) you support, and try to quantify what their results are. For example, if you are supporting a tutoring program, find out what the graduation rates are among the children who participated, and how they compare against their peers. Bottom line: Is there evidence to suggest that the work they are doing is having a positive and meaningful impact?

Lose: There are two ways to lose at charity: one is to give to a charity that is scamming, and the other is to demand more from the charity than you are giving. Believe it or not, it is possible for a donor or volunteer to take up more of a charity’s resources than they provide. Demanding excessive recognition for a small donation or being an unreliable volunteer are a few examples.

The Battle of Advocacy

Advocating for people in need can take many forms – from taking political action to everyday acts of standing up for others. Either way, this landscape is a social battleground with clear winners and losers.

Win: Winning at advocacy can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it is getting a bill passed. Sometimes it’s a court decision. Other times, it just means making someone feel like they’re not alone if they are depressed or bullied.

Lose: The thing about advocacy, is that you can keep on doing it until you see it pay off. Therefore, the only way to really lose at advocacy is to give up.

The Battle of Online Activism

Online activism is often the first thing that comes to mind when you think of social justice warriors, and it is one of the easiest ways to support a cause. However, like all things, there is a right and a wrong way to raise awareness about a cause online.

Win: To successfully raise awareness about an issue, first you have to be spreading information that is accurate, which means fact-checking and doing your homework. The best type of online activism is the type that provides some useful information, and gives a suggestion for action you can take to make a difference.

Lose: Spreading misinformation, losing your cool and insulting someone’s character are all common ways to lose at online advocacy.

Draw: Successfully raising awareness about a problem without any helpful information about a solution is only half the battle. While sometimes it can be educational, usually this type of post serves little purpose other than to get you down.

If you are aspiring to make a positive impact in the world, it is important to be grounded in what your goals are and what it means to be successful. Without that, it is way too easy to get swept up in unhelpful, ill-informed, or even counterproductive activities. Taking a practical approach will help give you direction and get to the bottom of the difficult question of “what actually works?”

If you’re not aspiring to make a positive impact in the world, then perhaps you should consider it.

* This is just an expression, I don’t actually recommend donating in cash.

Want to get started making a positive impact in the world, but just don’t know how? Check out my Advice & Tips. As always, thanks for reading!

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