Seven Most Important Lessons my Heroes Taught Me
Lesson #4: To create social justice, agitate with love.
People won’t just change their behavior because it makes sense. They usually have to be motivated, excited, inspired, and sometimes even shook up to want to become activists.
Jane Goodall said, “We can never win an argument by appealing to people’s heads. It’s got to be in the heart.” Logic and rationality are good, but it’s love that best inspires people to change things for the better. We are most apt to create social justice when we practice loving compassion, even for those we consider our enemies.
For more than 50 years, Susan B. Anthony endured threats and ridicule for her tireless quest to reform the unfair laws that governed women. Crisscrossing the country at a breathtaking pace well into her eighties, she gave 4,000 women’s rights speeches.
She was arrested in 1872 for daring to vote — an illegal act for a woman. She never lived to legally vote in a federal election, but her selfless devotion to equality was so effective, the 19th Amendment, assuring women’s right to vote, is known as the Susan B. Anthony amendment.
In my opinion, no woman was more effective at agitating for social justice than Susan B. Anthony.
Frederick Douglass escaped the cruelty of slavery at the age of 20 and quickly became a strong voice for civil rights. His lecturing and reasoning were so impressive that opponents refused to believe he’d been a slave. A beacon of morality, his vision transcended race and gender.
He said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who favor freedom without agitation want crops without plowing ... they want rain without thunder and lightning.”
Douglass spent his adult life agitating for social justice.
One night, he returned home on the outskirts of Washington, DC to find a young black man on the front steps. As the story goes, this man pleaded, “Mr. Douglass, I’ve seen you speak. I want to help make a difference. Tell me, what I should do?”
Before turning to walk inside, Douglass faced the man and said three words: “Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.”
Frederick Douglass died of a heart attack that night in the front foyer of his home. Those may have been his last words. Even in his last hours he knew that to create social justice, agitate with love.