It is difficult to put a powerful experience such as study abroad into words but upon reading both King’s letter and Fr. Kolvenbach’s essay, their respective messages connected excellently with an experience I had while abroad. I was on semester break and I traveled to Bangkok to visit friends who were studying there. On one of my last nights there we decided to celebrate by eating at the Sky Bar (as made famous by The Hangover 2). I know it may seem impossible now to be connecting The Hangover and Martin Luther King Jr. but there is a point to all of this.
So that night we took a cab downtown. The restaurant was the height of lavishness; doors were opened for us by men in tuxedos who bowed when we entered. They even pulled out our chairs for us and we ate while a jazz band played. At the time we all loved the attention and thrill of being in such an expensive place and we definitely spent more than our fair share of money. However, as we left the restaurant we took note of the surrounding neighborhood and its inhabitants. On one side of the street, Lamborghini's and Ferrari's were parked waiting for their turn in the restaurant. On the other side was basically a shanty town, with houses made of tin and people walking around bare foot offering to sell us various bracelets or tapestries they had made. It was the ultimate image of poverty and struggle. I couldn't understand how such poverty could literally share the same street as a lavish hotel. What made it even worse was that those who were eating dinner and enjoying the hotel turned a blind eye to those suffering across the street.
I’ve worked with Habit for Humanity in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore and the work we did really seemed to have a visible impact. It was rewarding to help and to be a part of a good cause but this only added to the discomfort I felt when I was confronted with the poverty in Bangkok. It seemed like no one there cared enough to even admit that there was a major problem of economic disparity in the city. I felt a particularly strong resonance with King’s famous quote from his letter, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (King 1). King is suggesting that any type of injustice has severe adverse effects on all of humanity. If any one person is experiencing injustice, that is a direct threat to the justice of others.
Fr. Kolvenbach seems to touch on this same point when discussing the Jesuit ideology on the “promotion of justice.” He writes, “Only a substantive justice can bring about the kinds of structural and attitudinal changes that are needed to uproot those sinful oppressive injustices that are a scandal against humanity and God.” (Kolvenbach 27). In essence, Fr. Kolvenbach is making the same point as King. They are both arguing that true justice is only achieved in the constant battle against injustice. This made me wonder whether or not “true justice” could ever be achieved. If justice is always in a struggle against injustice, can it ever prevail? I believe both men would agree that the true nature of justice is that it counteracts other injustices. In this sense, while I may not be able to reconcile the economic disparities I witnessed in Southeast Asia, I was able to come to terms with the fact that any act of justice aids humanity in the struggle against injustices.
Even if I am not able to have a direct impact on the injustices I witnessed abroad I can still educate others about them and hope to have an impact that way. Both Fr. Kolvenbach and King believed in a certain power of education. They believe that educating the public will arm it to fight injustices. King sums this point up well saying, “injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience” (King 6). Here, King makes a bold statement about the nature of humanity. He knows that exposing injustices to the public will be very uncomfortable for many people. However, this discomfort is the same source from which King draws hope because it proves that inherently injustices distress humanity. If King is correct, then education, and Kolvenbach would take it a step further to say a Jesuit education, is crucial to combating injustices in our world.