Justice and Compassion

No matter which side of the political spectrum we reside, I think we can all agree that social and political tensions are running very high these days. Everywhere I look, I am confronted with news of violence, protests or violent protests.

All these events have got me thinking about the concept of justice.

Justice is about what is right and, if necessary, defending it. That can mean protecting the weak or speaking out against evil. This sounds very noble, but there’s a catch – we all have our own definition of right and wrong. This means that ‘an eye for an eye’ is also justice. So is ‘every man for himself.’

While justice is important because concepts of right and wrong is what determines rules and laws, it shouldn’t be viewed as the end-all and be-all. Understand that justice is not the same thing as peace and that, at times, it can even be cruel.

Another thing to note about justice is that it is not the same thing as social responsibility. If anything, justice requires one to place one’s own beliefs above all else, even if it means defiance. Therefore, society cannot depend on justice alone to maintain order. If anything, left to its own devices, justice can lead to self-righteousness, which can become mean and nasty.

In order for it to be a guiding force for humanity, justice needs to be tempered with compassion.

To be compassionate is to transcend one’s own narrow concepts of right and wrong and see those who differ from us as more than just sinners and monsters who are ignorant and despicable. It challenges us to see the humanity in other people even if we disagree with them; even if we dislike them. It requires us to rise beyond our own fears and biases.

In today’s tumultuous times, we all need to hold dearly onto our sense of compassion and not allow justice to descend into hatred and violence.

For me, this starts with acknowledging that these lowly behaviours aren’t limited to just terrorists and members of other political parties. Many people I know – myself included – have been blinded by our own self-righteous sense of justice and rejected compassion at some point.

While we haven’t committed any major acts of violence, many of us have contributed to the atmosphere of anger and hostility at some point. We do it when we share a snarky meme that belittles and mock people we dislike. We do it when we carelessly broadcast our latest opinions through social media with the intent to vent instead of engaging in meaningful conversation.

As I write this, I am reminded of these song lyrics: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…


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