The Whole Picture: Advancing Social Justice through Wholeness
By Janeen Manuel, PhD and Nora F. Murphy Johnson, PhD
How can we use the idea of wholeness to get “unstuck” and moving forward in our work as changemakers?
Wholeness refers to the idea that everything in our world is interconnected, and that we can’t fully understand any part of it without understanding its relationship to the whole. It’s a way of seeing the world as an intricate web of relationships, where everything is inextricably linked. When we recognize the interconnectedness of everything, we begin to see how different forms of injustice are interrelated, and how they are all symptoms of a deeper imbalance. This means that what’s outer is inner, and what’s inner is outer. The path towards wholeness is one each must walk on our own, and one that we must walk together.
Author, educator, and Quaker philosopher Parker J. Palme has written extensively on subjects like identity, community, leadership, and spirituality. In “A Hidden Wholeness,” Palmer suggests that we often live “divided lives,” in which our inner and outer selves are disconnected. He posits that this disconnection can lead to personal and societal issues because we are not living in alignment with our true values and beliefs. This split within ourselves can contribute to feelings of unhappiness, discontent, and disconnection. To address this, Palmer presents the concept of wholeness, which involves integrating our inner and outer lives. He emphasizes the importance of aligning our actions and outward life with our inner values and beliefs, a state he refers to as “living divided no more.”
Author and educator bell hooks has written extensively about the intersectionality of various forms of oppression. In her book Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, she writes:
“To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism, classism, racism, and heterosexism. Thus, feminist struggle necessarily means antiracist struggle, and it means class struggle. It means challenging the whole capitalist-colonialist-patriarchal mode of production, distribution, and consumption.”
Thus, while it may initially seem overwhelming, taking time to think about and focus on wholeness gives us a deeper perspective and perhaps new ideas for doing our everyday work of tackling the individual “parts” of social injustice. It allows us to “zoom out” and see complexity and interrelationships, and from that viewpoint, we might be able to make more impactful decisions.
Wholeness and the Changemaker
In addition, the idea of wholeness is important for changemakers in terms of internal factors, including mental health, emotional wellbeing, and spiritual fulfillment. When individuals are whole, they are better equipped to address external factors that contribute to social injustice. For example, people with good mental health are more likely to be productive members of society. They contribute to the economy and promote social stability. When individuals are spiritually fulfilled, they are more likely to have a sense of purpose, leading them to work towards creating a more just and equitable world. For this reason, we must work towards creating a world where individuals are seen as whole beings, with equal value for their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Palmer writes in Let Your Life Speak:
“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks — we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”
Wholeness and Changemaking
One way to do this is to create safe spaces where individuals can feel comfortable expressing their emotions and experiences. This is particularly important for marginalized communities, who may not have had the opportunity to speak openly about their experiences. When individuals feel safe to express themselves, they are more likely to experience healing and growth, which can contribute to their overall wholeness.
Another way to promote wholeness within the social justice movement is to prioritize self-care. As changemakers, it’s easy to become consumed by the work we do, often neglecting our own wellbeing. However, self-care is essential in moving towards wholeness, both individually and collectively. When individuals prioritize their own wellbeing, they are better equipped to contribute to the work of promoting social justice (Severns Guntzel & Murphy Johnson, 2020). Self-care can take many forms, including physical exercise, meditation, therapy, and spending time with loved ones.
Our wish for you
These days especially, being a changemaker can be overwhelming. Sometimes, perhaps due to exhaustion and burnout, we try to move forward by completing the tasks in front of us one by one in an attempt just to get something done–to have some items checked off our ‘to do’ lists. In that context, taking a moment to reflect on wholeness may seem like using up time we don’t have. However, zooming out to think about interrelationships and the interconnectedness of social justice issues, and sitting back to think about honoring the whole self, is actually vital to creating transformational change. We challenge you to try it.
hooks, b. (2014). Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Routledge.
Palmer, P. J. (1999). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. John Wiley & Sons.
Palmer, P. J. (2022). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided life. john Wiley & sons.
Severns Guntzel, J. & Murphy Johnson, N. 2020. Wellbeing Inspires Welldoing: How Changemakers’ Inner Wellbeing Influences Their Work [Report]. Retrieved from bit.ly/TWPreport2020
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