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The Intersection Between Social Justice And Personal Development

This website started out as a Steve Pavlina clone, and as such, a personal development blog. However, unlike many clones, it survived long enough for me to find my own personal style.

I alternately define this blog as “stuff for conscious people” and “whatever I feel like writing about”. The second description is probably the most accurate. Still, most of my articles can be classified into two broad topics: personal development and social justice.

While I’m not sure I could claim to have done this all on purpose, I will say that I think personal development and social justice have a very important synergy with each other. There are times, even, when the lines between one and the other blur, and they become one and the same thing.

Losing Privilege As A Growth Experience

One of the biggest growth experiences you can go through is to lose privilege (privilege in the social justice sense of the word e.g. straight privilege, white privilege). I did this two and a half years ago when I decided to begin my gender transition.

When you give up privilege, you suddenly see the world in a different way. You previously took certain things for granted; a certain level of respect and dignity given to you; feeling safe on the streets; feeling represented and supported in who you are by society. Then, suddenly you no longer have those things, and the illusion that everyone is equally privileged falls apart. You learn more compassion for the disprivileged; you become less judgemental. You start to value safe places and acceptance more. And above all, you begin to have a new perspective on how society is structured and what we need to do to change it.

You also have to learn to deal with these new disadvantages; it’s not pleasant but arguably it is a form of personal growth. I’ve been forced to try to learn to hold onto serenity and lovingness even in the most extreme situations. It’s not like I’m perfect at this, but it’s also true that it’s easy to say you’re great at having positive energy when you don’t get tested like I do.

Social Justice Depends On Personal Development

On the other side of the equation, your ability to fight for social justice depends on your ability to change and grow. Social justice teaches us that we all have unconscious tendencies to oppress others, even when we don’t want to. I like to say that the only people who say that they are completely not homophobic, racist etc are the ones who haven’t examined themselves too closely.

It takes a bit of sensitivity to work this out, a bit of intuition. It requires learning to look inside and discern patterns. For instance, it took me a long time to realise I was racist. To start with, my racist patterns were completely unconscious. As I began to examine myself, though, unconscious thoughts became conscious. I started to see things I had been thinking without even realising I was thinking them.

When you lose privilege e.g. by transitioning, you’re usually pretty much forced to work on your oppressive mental structures; or else it would just be too uncomfortable to be a member of the class oppressed by those structures. For instance, when I realised I was a woman I was completely bogged down by my own sexism. Suddenly the negative attitudes I had had towards women became negative attitudes towards myself. Naturally, if you don’t work on changing that, you can’t live any sort of healthy life.

The Big Picture

Overall, I believe our impact on the world has a lot to do with our ability to change.

I believe the world is messed up not (only) because of capitalism, not (only) because of patriarchy, but ultimately, because people just aren’t that nice to each other. I believe that the only ultimate solution can come about when we all learn to love and care for each other. Does that sound kooky? Well, I think it sounds kooky to think a revolution imposing a new social system could stop people hurting each other. You can’t legislate kindness.

Ultimately I think the idea that things could be solved in such a top-down manner is one of the errors that keeps us in the state we’re in. It stops people taking personal responsibility. I think the only way we can ever truly change is by each of us taking personal responsibility for our little contribution to the overall state of the world.

Social justice helps us reflect upon how we are being harmful to others without knowing it. With luck, we can learn to empathise with a larger proportion of society, and see the personhood and dignity in all people, not only the ones who look like us.

Different Pursuits Blending Social Justice And Personal Development

So many pursuits are ultimately a blend of social justice and personal development:

Unschooling, or non-coercive parenting, requires us to challenge ourselves to break out of the parenting paradigm that was imposed on us. We have to discover a new paradigm, partly inventing it for ourselves as we go along, as role models are relatively few. Unschooling requires you to allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable, and not to resort to violence as a way of solving problems. I think the only way you can do it effectively is by changing as a person.

And from unschooling comes Unjobbing. This is a more self-directed effort, and looks more like personal development on the surface: it’s discovering a new means of self-motivation that is holistic and doesn’t involve using self-coercion. But ultimately it also means taking down oppressive structures; just, in this case, it’s oppressive structures which you have turned against yourself.

Veganism is a lifestyle choice that challenges the oppression of animals. It might come under the heading of “lifestyle experimentation” (even if this sounds a little frivolous when we consider what is at stake here) and requires a process of adaptation and growth. The vegan diet, independent of the vegan philosophy and lifestyle, can be experimented with too, and often unexpectedly leads to a growth in compassion and a new perspective on social justice.

Feminism can be both a case of challenging external sexism against us (if we are women) and challenging our own sexism (self-directed sexism if we are women, or the rather stronger sexism men get from their particular social conditioning). I’ve written several self-help guides for men so that they can challenge their sexism: Practical Exercises To Overcome SexismWhy Trying Receptive Anal Sex Can Make Straight Men Less SexistBreaking Down Male Conditioning: Learning To Cry AgainBreaking Down Male Social Conditioning: A Self-Help Guide To Ending Rape Culture

Discovering that you are LGBT is of course a process of introspection. And then integrating that in your life is a growth project. Undergoing a gender transition could possibly be seen as an immensely far-reaching lifestyle change in the tradition of personal development. (Amusingly, I viewed it that way when I began my transition, though I later realised I had to have a less frivolous perspective on it).

Polyamory is also a growth experience; as well as being a lifestyle change (obviously) it requires introspection, first to arrive at the conclusion that polyamory is for you and then in order to overcome your difficulties with it. Polyamory forces you to challenge your jealousy, something which is kind of “medicated” by monogamy and which monogamy therefore prevents you from actually dealing with properly. As well as being a growth experience, though, polyamory is an aspect of social justice; it challenges the oppressive structures built into the social concept of relationships. Instead of attempting to control your partner (something that often feeds into patriarchy given the power balances involved in male-female relationships) you learn to give your partner freedom: to stop oppressing them, in other words. (I hope this won’t offend people who are convinced about monogamy, but then, it’s hard to bring out ideological thought without offending some people). And whether or not you agree that monogamy is inherently oppressive, it is surely clear that we have to fight against the oppressions which make polyamory still so hard to practice in our current society.

Learning to find yourself beautiful despite being fat is both a personal development journey and a challenge to thin-ism, objective beauty standards as a whole, as well as ultimately sexism.

And there are so many more examples.


So I think effective personal development requires social justice, and effective social justice requires personal development. If you’re interested in only one of these two topics, I challenge you to broaden your horizons. Limiting yourself in this way is surely holding you back.

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