By Anthony T. Eaton

In 2014, I had the privilege to interview Attorney Tim Paynter, a leader helping the community in civil and equal rights, including hungry children, abused women, and immigrants. Seven years later, the topics we discussed are just as relevant as they were then regarding social justice and equality. The following is an edited version of our original interview from 2014.

You are an attorney by profession, but today, your work focuses on the poor, women, and children. What made you want to help those that are often marginalized or overlooked by society?

As a child, I always felt like I was the underdog. In my family, my father tried to motivate us to tell us we were not good enough. Some children react well to that kind of reverse psychology; others take it to heart. I took it to mean I was never worthy. Hence, it is natural for the underdog to fight for underdogs, that’s abused women, hungry children, and others who have less than you.  

I can relate to that feeling. Would you say your childhood experiences, although negative, have had a positive impact on your life?

More though, I have learned compassion is a gift. An artist paints pictures and says to others, why don’t you do that? Non-artists tell the artist they don’t have the talent. Compassion, like art, is a gift. Everyone has some ability for compassion, but others are very blessed. 

It took me years to realize I have a gift. The big decision in my life is whether I would use it or whether I was going only to help myself. Helping others find the gift of compassion within themselves is a life challenge.

I can also relate to it taking years to realize you have a gift, but I think it is the journey, not the destination. What kind of boundaries do you set related to the work you do?

My work is as a compassionate person with abused women and, sometimes, abused men. As a general rule, because of childhood experiences, I won’t represent the other side of the coin, an abusive parent or spouse. If a person accused of domestic violence is innocent, or if the person is willing to get help, then I am a great advocate. Otherwise, I won’t take the case. I will, though, happily point out to the Court and police when a strong case needs to be made to protect a wife and her children from an out-of-control husband.

What are your thoughts about what we are seeing from our politicians regarding social justice and equality?

At present, I am very discouraged by our leadership, most of which hail from a legal background. I find the new trends in social justice very disturbing. 

The problem is we systematically exclude people from an active voice in their government and the opportunities some enjoy. Partisan politics is shredding our country and robbing us of our common good.

How do you think that activism and social justice have changed over the last fifty years?

Apart from how we motivate communities to take action, the biggest change to social justice is how we communicate with our communities. 

The internet, Twitter, text messages, and modern communications have changed how we reach constituents. An entire revolution can be planned under the radar by using technology. That bodes both good and bad for our society. We can communicate with people who were difficult to reach before.  

Has there been a leader that has inspired you?

Yes, Nelson Mandela. He spent 27 years in prison fighting for basic freedom. When he was released, he spent no time resenting his past. Mandela spent a lot of time crafting a solution for South Africa that was as inclusive as possible under the circumstances. He inherently knew, to dwell upon past wrongs won him nothing. 

If his country was to have peace, it must be inclusive and not harsh with those who had been cruel and harsh with him.

What has been the most significant leadership challenge in your career related to your work in social justice, equality, and human rights?

Finding my place in the struggle for civil and human rights has been the most difficult. Leadership does not mean you have to be the leader. It means you have to stand down sometimes so others can lead.  

I have always found the written word to be inspirational and motivational, and so each day, I post a quote on the Leadership & More blog and through other social media. Do you have a favorite quote?

“A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” Max Lucado

Seven years seems like a long time, and while we have seen some advances here and there, we have also experienced setbacks regarding equal rights and social justice. The adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same certainly comes to mind. Still, hope springs eternal thanks to the work that individuals like Tim and so many others do because ultimately, what affects one of us, affects all of us.