Sunday, November 27, 2005

Aung San Suu Kyi

I heard the news on NPR this morning; Aung San Suu Kyi will serve at least another year under house arrest in Myanmar. The most recent news I read indicates that the government has not confirmed this extension of her house arrest, but police cars were seen entering her neighborhood this morning -the day last year's house arrest order would otherwise have expired. You can read more of her story on line. Try wikipedia to get the background, Amnesty International to update yourself on what's being done to free her, and NPR for more updated news as to her status.

I have more personal reflections about what I've learned from her. I've never met her; she's been confined in her home for 10 of the last 16 years, after all. But she did work briefly as a social worker in New York. That little piece of her I do know.

Everyone knows that some people have it hard and some people have it easy. Social workers are the ones who say, "No- I'm not okay with that." (I know we're not the only ones who do this.) In that small way, I submit that we're subversives. We want to subvert the system that doesn't work for so many people.

If we're doing the work well, we're looking at some hard questions. Why are there so many poor and abandoned people? What is due to workers and to people who are unemployed? What is the relationship between political, economic, and social justice, and between these ideas and the common good? These questions might sound boring and pedantic, but really they're fascinating. They are, however, threatening, because when answered they're going to mean that we can't go on living the way we'd been living before.

Social workers try to make a world where there's some congruence between what we as a nation say and what we do. We do this work in different ways, of course. Only sometimes does social work frankly subvert by trying to change the economic or political structures that oppress. Clearly, that's the path that Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen.

But if we want to subvert one dangerous thing, we have to be sure to create something of merit to take its place. A world that makes sense for all its inhabitants, perhaps? That may sound like a spiritual project, and for some of us it is; Aung San Suu Kyi has written eloquently herself about the "essential spiritual aims" of the struggle for justice in Myanmar.

So, what it comes down to is this: the work that social justice advocates do is dangerous. It may or may not be politically dangerous. We may or may not have to face the consequences of our actions as starkly and bravely as Aung San Suu Kyi has. But the fact is, we're trying to change the world.

So, when you meet burnout in your life -and you will- try to remember her witness to something more important. She no longer has the option of just quitting. She faces the consequences of working for justice every single minute. The very least we can do is get out of bed in the morning and try to make things better for somebody.

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