Single Words Part Two: Justice

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.

-Winston Churchill-

Sometimes it is easier for me to explain something by explaining what it is not.

I awoke early in the morning and made my way towards the clinic.  The nurse pointed to where the injustice could be found.   I wrapped it in a white sheet and took it outside.  Down the stairs.  Across the yard.  Out the gate.  Down the road.  Into the concrete room.  I laid it with the other injustices, turned and left.  I repeated this process multiple times over several weeks.

In my mind there is no greater injustice in the world than a dead child.  Even more so there is no greater injustice than a child that died from a preventable disease like cholera.  Yet again there is no greater injustice than that of a child, dead from a preventable disease like cholera, carried by myself, an adult, anything but innocent and lucky enough to have been born in a country where cholera does not exist.

Two Kinds of Justice

I often think that justice is a world in which I die from cholera and the child I carried lives.  Justice is a world in which cholera does not exist and children do not die at all.  We may call an issue like this one of social justice, a breakdown in the relationships between people and their surroundings, surroundings consisting of others, self, God and the environment.  These issues of social justice are often championed by encouraging people to buy fair trade, support a cause, sign a petition, or boycott a company, yet children still die.  This is not at all to suggest that these issues are not worthy of undertaking only that they can be overwhelming and cause many to respond in complete inactivity.

Then there is justice in the judicial sense.  People seek this when they, or someone they are close to, are a victim of a crime.  The justice that they desire is in the form of a punishment meted out upon the person who they believe to be guilty of that crime.  This form of justice often leads people to explode with glee when another human being is sentenced to life in prison or perhaps even to death. Despite all of this people still commit crimes, people are still unfulfilled, and people still die.  I am not advocating that the government let people who commit crimes go free only that the scenes we see play out in courtrooms across the world do not fully address the real issue of justice.

So we have two different aspects of this idea of justice, the cold, textbook and mechanical justice of the court system and the idealistic, often popular and hard to define social justice of our everyday lives.  We are often quick to point out when we feel that others are not acting justly, but are more often oblivious to our own unjustness, or in times when we are treated well when in fact the more just treatment would be the opposite.

Attempting to Balance The Scales

It is my belief that justice is not found in the execution of a murderer, but in a society in which murder does not exist.  Justice is not found in my own life taking the place of a child dead from cholera but in a world in which cholera does not exist.  Justice is not simply a world in which evil people are punished, it is a world in which evil does not exist.  This is admittedly a utopian idea, something that we cannot completely attain; yet that does not mean that it should be any less of a goal.

One way that we should be promoting justice is through our actions.  This is an admittedly broad category but the broadness will have to do in such a limited amount of space.  Everything that we do should promote the righting of relationships in the world.  This includes refraining from violence, stealing, harming the environment and abusing people and relationships among many other things.  As men we will most often see this concept play out within the relationships closest to us.  As a member of a household it is our role to promote right relationships in the family.  This means that we teach our children to treat others with respect as we model this not only to them but also to the other members of our families (note that this idea has at its core being present in our children’s lives as a prerequisite).  This also means that as a friend and neighbor we promote justice by respecting others, helping the poor, bringing important social issues to the forefront and removing barriers that obstruct others from justice.

Another way that we should be promoting justice is with our words.  We are to be a mouthpiece to those who are suffering in the world, champion the poor, campaign for the marginalized, posit a defense for the weak and force people to remember the forgotten.  There is no injustice that can be overlooked, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. There is no cause too small to be ignored.  Any time we see something in life that is not the way it should be it is our obligation to push for change, which often starts with words.  This also includes the quality of our speech and the way in which we talk towards others.  We cannot claim to promote justice if we verbally destroy our coworkers, play upon the insecurities of those closest to us, destroy reputations and belittle people at every opportunity.

Finally, and in no way is this list exhaustive, we are to promote justice by the way we spend our resources.  I was once criticized by a professor in college for coming down hard on capitalistic greed in our society and he asked me, hoping to dilute the opinion I gave, you do not really think that it is a sin to buy a pair of Nikes do you?  At the time I backed down, mainly to save a grade, but I often think back to that statement and wonder.  Honestly, I do not know the answer to this question, but I do have other questions that must be asked.  What are we promoting with the use of our resources, whether money, water, oil, or time?  When we give our funds to a company that is known to use child or slave labor to produce their product are we promoting justice?  I would say no.  When we waste food and water or spend hours of our time viewing and participating in events that promote the degradation of women and children are we promoting justice?  Again, I say no.

The Indifference Of Good Men

 Breakdowns in justice, injustices, are a product of breakdowns in the way people relate to each other and their surroundings.  As men, and people in general, I believe that it is our foremost priority to not only seek justice in everything thing that we do but also to defend those who have injustices done to them, those who are not able to defy injustice in their own lives.  If we fail to act upon injustices done to others we are no different than those who are actually committing the evil, as a character from one of my favorite movies says,

Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.

Justice is not handed out by a judge, it is fought for within every human being on a daily basis even during seemingly mundane situations.   One does not have to move to Africa and start an orphanage, fight human trafficking in Asia or start a homeless shelter in Chicago to strive for justice; a person only needs to seek to right the relationships in the world around them. 

After dropping off the injustice wrapped in white I walked back outside.  I could hear music coming up the road.  It was still dark out yet I could make out a large crowd of people, also dressed in white.  They were singing songs, which I recognized as Creole hymns.  They stopped in front of the building I had just left and a woman led the group in a prayer for the patients in the clinic, the workers both Haitian and foreign, the dead and their own community.  They left singing just as they had come.  Even as their world was collapsing around them in the form of a massive epidemic they came seeking the righting of the relationships between themselves, others, the environment and God.  They came seeking justice.  Let us as men do the same.

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Categories: A First Faint Gleam

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4 Comments on “Single Words Part Two: Justice”

  1. Anthony Jones
    May 9, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    Good stuff Curt. Powerful.

    I definitely am in the camp of feeling overwhelmed to make much of an impact in the realm of justice outside of my immediate context and immediate relationships. Particularly, when it comes to industry, corporations, politics, etc., I feel trapped and entangled by my environment, incapable of really doing much about it.

    The hallmark of the source of this feeling is the fact that I piss into a gallon of clean, drinkable water 10 times a day and flush it down the drain while millions upon millions have limited or no access to such water. And I have no choice in that.

  2. curtisrrogers
    May 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    I agree Jones, most of the time I do not even know where to start. I think the problem was compounded for me after moving back to America and trying to get back into what we view as normal society, working a nine to five, buying a house and car etc. etc. I really have no answers for a lot of stuff just many more questions. I have to believe that even thinking through it like we are trying to do is a plus. Thanks for reading, hope your family is well.


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