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  • Chris Byers, MA, LMHC

Honoring A King: Our Struggle Towards Justice Everywhere (Part IV)

The Danger of a Single Story


In this final installment of our 4-part series Honoring A King: Our Struggle Towards Justice Everywhere, I’ll attempt to illuminate the complexity of injustice and how it presents in our world today. Additionally, I offer some next steps to facilitate healthy healing, growth, and change for all. From the lonely isolation of a cell in the Birmingham City Jail, the honorable Martin Luther King, Jr. writes, “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” In this notorious excerpt from his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King offers an honest and loving rebuke of a divided nation that has failed to care for ALL the people. Honoring a King invites us all to tell the truth about injustice anywhere and everywhere while also having the courage to take action to see that Martin’s dream is fully actualized.


The truth is, we are still a deeply divided nation, maybe now more than ever. There are unfortunately many roadblocks to our individual and collective healing, growth, and change. In Part I, the first roadblock I focused on was how the danger of comparison creates a hierarchy of suffering that leads to the validation of some pain, and the invalidation of another. Holding space and care for the complexity of pain and suffering is paramount if we are to find a hopeful way forward. In Part II, the danger of confusion around our definitions and understanding of justice has led to the historical perpetuation of injustice. Bringing clarity to the 4 essential ingredients for healthy justice as equality, equity, mutuality, and reciprocity, helps us avoid this unnecessary roadblock. The best way to avoid roadblocks is to foster a deeper awareness of their origins. Exposing the danger of shame as the #1 root cause of injustice, Part III unpacked the insidious nature of this toxic emotion and how it creates a deceptive divide within ourselves and one another. Thus, the road towards repair goes straight through the treacherous terrain of our shame pain. And finally, in Part IV of this series, the last significant roadblock examined confronts our propensity towards narrow mindsets that I call the danger of a single story trap.


Out of the gate, I believe it is imperative to give credit where credit is due. In the midst of my graduate training, I was gratefully exposed to a diversity of voices who inspired me to think critically and seek a more robust and intersectional understanding of humankind from a variety of different perspectives. It was there when I first heard of the brilliant Nigerian author and TED speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie has played an integral part in my formation and framework for my therapeutic work and perspective on healthy justice. It was through her famous TED Talk that I learned about The Danger of a Single Story. I highly encourage you to create 18 minutes and 33 seconds of your time and space to take in her beautiful, kind, and poignant perspective. Although Adichie does not talk explicitly about injustice, her insights illuminate the profound struggle many of us have in ignoring our preference for either/or binaries versus embracing a more just and productive both/and posture when it comes to stories of injustice.


There is no single story that is the definitive exemplar of what injustice is. Unfortunately, there are many who believe injustice is “just a thing of the past,” and no longer a reality that individuals and entire communities of people face on a daily basis. This form of ignore-ance, is really a fear-full refusal to look squarely into the eyes of pain, suffering, and oppression in our neighborhoods, cities, states, country, and world. Likewise, and what I often experience most in the therapy room, it is a refusal to acknowledge personal pain and suffering, the hurt, the harm, the neglect, and the abuse many have faced and are still facing in their own homes or within their families of origin. These traumatic stories are held deep within our bodies and psyche and are often ignored and therefore, never cared for. Adichie states, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” I believe in repair because I see its powerful impact daily in the courageous stories of our clients who are angry for justice in their own life, and the lives of others. They learn to apply the wise words of Richard Rohr. “Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.” Pain that is transmitted is a double-injustice. Without transforming it, it perpetrated once, and it will perpetrate again and again.


We are indeed, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” From his solitary jail cell, Martin was desperately trying to convince us that our pain does not have to continue being transmitted from one generation to another. It will continue to do so, if we fail to acknowledge how our fear and shame collide and create binary stories about the self and others. This emotional collision literally moves our brains and bodies into survival based neurobiological modes of operation that forgets about mutuality, forgets about healing, and ignores the interconnectedness of injustice anywhere and everywhere. It is here that injustice thrives, manifests, and presents in a variety of different ways. I call this reality the spectrum of injustice.


The Spectrum of Injustice

Like pain, injustice lives on a spectrum and impacts us all individually in a myriad of different ways. Additionally, injustice also has a collective impact as well. As previously stated, there are entire communities and people groups who, some more than others, have had a very different experience with injustice in our country and around the world. Unfortunately, injustice lurks at both individual and institutional levels. It has infiltrated systems, many of which were built upon foundations of injustice and under the false guise of liberty and justice for all. Below is an expandable word and name list that comes to mind as I think about injustice, particularly from a psychotherapeutic social justice lens. (This list is certainly not exhaustive). Additionally, I created a visual representation I've called, The Mountain of Injustice.

The Mountain of Injustice: A List of Words & Names


(CLICK IMAGE TO HIGHLIGHT & EXPAND WORDS)

We literally have to be in our right minds to seek healthy justice and learning how to do so is not an easy task. It requires patience, persistence, and most importantly, it requires presence. In her powerful book, A Shining Affliction: A Story of Harm and Healing in Psychotherapy, author and psychotherapist Annie Rogers vulnerably writes, "What has been wounded in a relationship must be, after all, healed in a relationship.” Because injustice happens in the context of relationship(s), the pursuit of justice requires reparative connections.


Next Steps to facilitate healing, growth, and change


Anyone who has worked with me therapeutically knows how important it is to me to never ask a client to do something I have not done myself. I know what it is like to sit on the therapy couch as a client and wrestle through the devastating impact of my own shame and fight to find my way towards the summit of my own healing journey. I could not do this process alone. It was with a trustworthy therapist and guide who helped me navigate the arduous terrain of my own story that helped me transform my pain into purpose which ultimately led me to this profession and a deep belief in the transformative power of this work. That purpose led me back to another guide whose radical insight, dream, and example lit the path for me to better understand the truth about injustice. His daily reminder states, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Like climbing a mountain, seeking justice happens one baby step at a time. Personally and professionally, this is how I honor a King.


Therapy is justice work because,"whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Your healing, my healing, and our healing is interconnected, and I want to encourage you to seek justice and take action towards your own healing, growth, and change journey.

  1. I'm a therapist, of course I'm going to recommend therapy. If you have never participated in therapy, please reach out to a therapist in your city and setup an initial consultation. One of our Grey Sky Counseling team members will be glad to setup a free 20-minute phone consultation with you to ask any questions you might have about the therapeutic process. If your therapist doesn't know how to engage your story of trauma, abuse, and injustice, please find one who can. You deserve that!

  2. Be curious and listen. Ask someone you know about their story and actually listen.

  3. Consider taking your own journey with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Might I suggest starting with The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

  4. Find a local organization whose mission is to serve those impacted most by systemic injustice. Give, donate, volunteer, and don't forget to stay curious and listen.

  5. Visit The Martin Luther King.Jr. Center and follow them on all their socials.


I hope you have enjoyed our series Honoring A King: Our Struggle Towards Justice Everywhere. We'd love to know how the series impacted you and if you have any additional questions that we can answer. You can send me a message here. Whenever you are ready, we are here to help. You don't have to climb alone.





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