Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 45 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

From Doing “Our Best” to “Doing Better” with Social Justice

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 45 seconds

This thought has been on my mind for some time now. I was frustrated in a Twitter exchange where someone said they were “doing our best” with the resources and constraints they had… even when they recognized they were not doing all that needed to be done…for social justice.

My feeling is that when you feel you are doing your best, but you can see a gap, some part of what you aspire towards, that you have been unable to achieve, then you may need to ask yourself if you should “do better” to embody your values.

I’m not saying we should do this for every aspect of everything we do. We would go crazy. But for things we value, we should always be on a trajectory to do better rather than settle for what is “our best” – you know deep inside yourself when your best can stand to be better.

As a parent this is extremely exhausting but is my constant companion. No matter what I do for my child, I know I can always do better. This doesn’t mean I will always have energy or time to do better, but I am always accumulating ideas for doing better, and finding creative ways to create time (yes, “create time”) and space. I will fail a lot. But I will fail higher. Or I will recognize what I missed.

Within academia, I am most frustrated by critiques of how someone applies inclusivity or such, where a privileged person says they are doing their “best” because there’s almost certainly always a way to do better. Especially if minorities are telling you so. Because a position of privilege is no place to judge whether you’re doing well enough. It may be your personal best, but if your personal best is not good enough for those you are hoping to serve, help, reach, collaborate with – then you need to do better. Do better, which may mean work on yourself and your constraints in order to enable yourself to do better, to expand what your best can be. Otherwise, don’t claim that you value something if you understand it intellectually but aren’t willing to put in the effort.

Another thing to recognize is for whom your best is good enough. For whom is your best good enough?

For example, with Virtually Connecting, our best is good enough for marginalized groups who have good bandwidth, good English, and some time to spare. It’s not good enough for many others. Over time, we have sought ways to improve and have changed the way we facilitate and the way we invite people in order to strive for more equity and diversity. We will keep trying where it makes sense for our values to put time and effort.

One of the spaces centered on equity and which practices this is WOC in ELT (Women of Color in English Language Teaching), co-founded by Parisa Mehran among others. I was looking through their website and seeing how they were constantly taking feedback and making changes to what they were doing based on that. The act of seeking feedback and acting on it is so important and so difficult to do because it’s a mindset of “we can do better”, or at least, “we can do better for some groups”.


7 thoughts on “From Doing “Our Best” to “Doing Better” with Social Justice

  1. Every single time I see “diversity”, “inclusion”, “equality”, “equity” efforts fail & actually cause more harm than good by creating the illusion of equity, my heart breaks💔
    We *all* need to #dobetter. I’m trying to be open to change & criticism & I always learn a lot from you♥️

  2. Hi Maha, My only concern is that when the sense of “I cannot do enough” turns into “there is no point in doing anything” … which is a concern I have with lots of issues. I can be easy to burn out – so yes, you can always do better, but there also needs to be room for people to start … because “doing our best” is probably better than “doing nothing” – except when it isn’t. I get that … but I also see ways that it can also be discouraging.

    1. I hear u Rebecca. Also Pauline Ridley on Twitter reminded me how this might seem to ppl who are overworked and underappreciated like teachers. My post should be qualified that I am looking at ppl of privilege in positions of leadership or power who claim to aim towards social justice… but in reality don’t make enough effort, then say it was their best. They know it’s not good enough but they don’t try harder, or don’t acknowledge there is something beyond or better than what they deemed as their best.

  3. I really love what you’ve written here, Maha. I’m thinking of this today because my students did not do as well as I had hoped on their Advanced Placement U.S. History exams (I started teaching AP this year). While AP test results are perhaps sometimes overemphasized, and there are also many reasons a student might score below their potential on a single exam, AP test scores are nevertheless a social justice issue in my context because a high AP score is an opportunity for my students – traditionally underserved students by nearly every measure of equity – to improve their chances into gaining access to higher education. I am disappointed and tempted to be defensive but I need to ask the questions you’ve posed here and figure out how I can improve my instruction.

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