Granting Grace in Social Justice Conversations

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Photo by maria maggi Dogs are experts at granting grace

What is Grace?

For Christians, the idea of grace is that God loves you and forgives you even when you have screwed up really badly. Merriam-Webster describes grace as “free and unmerited”. That means that you don’t deserve grace, it’s given to you. A gift. Not a gift with strings. Not a gift with an attached yabbut. A freely given gift.

God (or Goddess, or higher power, or Fate, or whatever floats your boat) isn’t the only being that can grant grace. Dogs are excellent at it. Better than humans, actually. When a dog loves you, she loves you completely. She accepts you just the way you are. There’s no agenda, no conditions, just love. Grace.

People can grant grace as well. And there is nothing harder.
It is simple to *say* “I forgive you”. It is simple to *say* there are no conditions. And yet. It is *incredibly* difficult to do.

The First Rule of Granting Grace:

So here’s rule one: If you can’t afford to give grace as a true gift, *don’t give it*. If spending the time to explain a 101 concept to a stranger who might or might not be arguing in good faith is beyond you, link a resource (you do keep a resource file, don’t you, my friend in the #resistance?), call in a friend (mindful of relative privilege and other peoples’ abilities for grace) or simply exit the conversation, at least for now.

To expand further, the word “free” in the dictionary definition is crucial. And that means you give it and have *no stakes* in what is done with it. Sometimes you will be casting pearls before swine. And that *has to be* okay for grace to work.

My husband often calls me “blond mini she-Hulk”. And like Bruce Banner, I have a simple secret. I am always angry. My friends, family, clients, co-workers think I’m patient and kind, but that’s not actually true. I just have done the math on the benefit of extending grace to people in debate and discussion.

The Second Rule for Granting Grace

And here’s rule number two: To build room for grace, keep the goal in mind. And the goal is winning hearts and minds. The goal is *changing a mind*. Progressives have always been at a disadvantage when it comes to pithy arguments and simple solutions, because our ethics mirror the complexities and difficulties of the real world. So our advantage has to come from something different, from the patience and simple validation of grace, that amazing dialectic of “you’re good enough just the way you are” paired with “and you need to change to be your best self”. The progressive tent is a *really big tent* with room for disagreements. Lots and lots of disagreements
But. There is one disagreement that we can’t make room for.

The Third Rule for Granting Grace:

And that leads to rule three: Grace, as granted by humans, has a limit. That limit is defined by the paradox of tolerance, as stated by the philosopher Karl Popper in 1945. Paraphrased, it is that toleration of intolerance leads to the disappearance of tolerance, therefore we can’t tolerate intolerance. This is where extending grace can be like threading a very fine-eyed needle. Because we want to extend grace to the person, but we cannot extend grace to any of that person’s views that serve to dehumanize any human. Yes, that means any human, even vile humans.

A couple weeks ago I wrote an article about reaching out to rural and restbelt white Americans to increase the progressive base by framing their economic concerns as social justice concerns. Because it needs to be said, again, working with white Rustbelt and rural Americans does not mean we need to tolerate racist and misogynist statements and assumptions. It doesn’t mean we need to roll back our pro-choice agenda. It does mean that we look for commonalities in social justice *while at the same time* holding the line on not allowing intolerance. And honey, that requires a metric fuckload of grace. It’s exhausting work.

I Can’t Grant Grace. What Can I Do Instead?

Extending grace, educating, setting boundaries against intolerance, all of that is incredibly draining emotional labor. If you are unable to do this sort of work, you can still help this work by supporting those who can, financially and emotionally. There are outreach groups who work to reclaim Nazis from hate. There are publications who patiently explain complex concepts. And hey (blush, curtsy) there’s me. My Patreon is at or you can tip at I am paying off some significant medical debt that morphed into to some high interest credit debt, and then will be creating a non-profit that assists mental health therapy participants with therapy expenses while paying therapists equitably. If you like my writing or just want to support that goal, please drop a dime in the hat.

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