(This post kept getting longer and longer, so I decided to break it into 2)
My commitment to social justice as a set of values and a calling grew slowly over the first 3 decades of my life. I think the path I followed would be recognized as similar by many people, and I believe my experience illustrates the characteristics of personal change through epiphanies. Because I know my own path well, I’ll use it to illustrate the value of supporting epiphanies as part of a larger change strategy (bottom-up strategies).
Because epiphanies re-frame meaning for the individual (regardless of how many people share a particular experience), they always remain individual in their impact. We are used to thinking about the meaning of events as impacting all participants i the same way. Of course, events don’t do this. Each person experiences an event in a way particular to their personal history and current state of being. However, whatever the individual character of the re-framing, it affects the general system of meaning for the person sometimes for their entire life. It is this long term impact that lends strategic impact to epiphanies, though not at all like top-down victories discussed in earlier posts.
My parents came out of the depression and World War II with a commitment to equality that was typically American. They grew up in a working class neighborhood and my father was the first (and for a long time the only) person in that neighborhood who went to college. When he went to work for Dow in Midland, it was as part of professional upper middle class community and my parents found the ready devaluing of working class people offensive since it painted our entire family as inferior. They taught us that this was immoral and unacceptable.
Because of this personal, family base, Catholic social justice history made sense to me and expanded my idea of who should be able to use freedom and justice to forge their lives. The advent of the civil rights era also educated me to oppression I had not perceived before. But more important than education were the actual experiences I had as a person with a disability and as an ally to oppressed groups.
Next Post: Part 3 Cont’d: Examples of Epiphanies