J is for Justice
Updated: Aug 5, 2022
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public”. Cornel West
The word justice comes from the Latin word “jus”, meaning right or law. It is a complex ethical principle with varied meanings. It can signify the act of treating people with fairness, but equally a virtue establishing rational order or the equitable allocation of money and resources. Specifically, justice involves the application of fairness to individuals, groups or communities and is the glue that holds societies together.
“The foundation of justice is good faith”. Cicero
Justice is often used interchangeably with the word “fairness” and defined in many spheres as the ‘proper ordering’ of people and things. All races and religions have their own definition of justice enshrined in their codes of law and conduct.
“The need for justice grows out of the conflict of human interests. That is to say, if there were no conflict of interests among mankind we should never have invented the word justice, nor conceived the idea for which it stands.” Thomas Nixon Carver
Balance lies behind the concept of justice i.e. so that people should get what is right, fair and appropriate and that they receive equal and impartial treatment.
“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” Haile Selassie
To have justice as a person's character trait means that they are just and treat everyone the same, or how they would like to be treated.
“Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to every man his due”. Domitus Ulpian
In the early 2000s Scientists discovered that there was a common language of 24 character strengths that make up what’s best about our personality. Everyone possesses all 24 character strengths but in different degrees, so each person has a truly unique character strengths profile. Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson divided each character strength under six categories of general human virtue, which are universal across cultures and nations. One of the categories is justice and its associated strengths are fairness, leadership and teamwork.
Fairness: Fairness is associated with cognitive judgment that involves 2 types of reasoning; justice reasoning which is concerned with logic and weighing principles to determine moral rights and responsibilities and care reasoning which includes empathy and compassion; i.e. the ability to put yourself in somebody else's shoes. Fairness is essentially about the desire to give everyone an equal chance without allowing personal feelings to bias decisions and believing that there should be equal opportunity for all, though realizing that what is fair for one person might not be fair for another.
Leadership: As a character strength, good leadership essentially involves organising and encouraging a group to get things done by fostering and maintaining good relations, setting goals and accomplishing them and enlisting effective help where necessary.
Leadership qualities can be divided into two areas; having a capacity in the practical aspects and a leader’s own personal qualities.
Leadership can vary in form but effective leaders are able to motivate, inspire and empower all concerned. Two types of leaders identified are transactional leaders who clarify clearly the responsibilities, expectations, and the tasks to be achieved and transformational leaders, who motivate a group to perform at high level, and foster a climate of trust and commitment to reach the end goal.
Teamwork: Teamwork is about commitment and responsibility and doing your part and allowing others to do theirs in order to contribute to the ‘team’s success’. The term ‘team’ being an actual team or just as equally it could also refer to family and friends working together for the common good. In positive psychology, the virtue of justice is associated with social or civic strengths that help create and maintain a healthy community.
“Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity”. Alexander Solzhenitsyn
But what makes a situation ‘fair’? Any situation can be looked at from many perspectives. The Positivity Project suggests two main perspectives, the justice-reasoning approach, which uses logic and determines right from wrong through ethics, or the care-reasoning approach, which is based around empathy and the willingness to understand the needs, interests, and well-being of others.
With the justice-reasoning approach, rules are adhered to but it is possible to fail to remember that it’s not always best to treat every situation in a uniform manner. That being said, this approach is useful when emotions are involved.
It is always important to place our values ahead of our emotions, to be open-minded and to base decisions on ethical principles when we decide what is fair or unfair. Emotions are still an important part of decision making though. Antonio Damasio, grew up with the notion that, “Sound decisions came from a cool head, that emotions and reason did not mix any more than oil and water,” but with the development of new neuro-imaging techniques his ideas changed and he went on to demonstrate that emotions are actually crucial to making “correct” decisions
If we pretend that every situation is identical to another, we ignore the fact that each and every one of us is different and therefore it’s impossible for anything to be completely universal because we are all different and have unique needs, wants and perspectives. The care-reasoning approach favours decisions about what is fair based on the things that make us human, our connections and our ability to relate to one another. It takes into account a “What if that happened to me?” perspective.
Regardless of which approach you take, there is no neutrality when it comes to justice.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Desmond Tutu
Everyone wants justice but life doesn’t always appear fair. You often hear the phrase ‘Bad things happen to good people’. So how should we respond in the face of such widespread injustice? A simple response would be that life isn’t fair but we can, each and everyone, play our part to make the world as fair as possible for everyone else; to challenge injustice when we encounter it and make sure that our actions and speech are always just.
“It’s every man’s business to see justice done”. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Acting justly means making fair decisions in our business and personal lives treating everyone as equals regardless of appearance or status. Acting justly requires action, not just talk. Speaking about injustice; the homeless, the hungry, displaced people etc may make us appear to be caring, but words do nothing to ease the pain of those suffering it is through our direct actions that we fight injustice.
“If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected–those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most!–and listens to their testimony”. James Baldwin
Justice is never divorced from acts of love and mercy.
“Act justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly” Micah, Ch 6 v 8
In any situation we have the choice about how to respond. Our values and the way we respond is critical. By choosing to live by these six words: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly we are choosing to work for equality among people and to enhance human dignity and well-being by challenging the violence of every form of domination, discrimination, oppression and war.
“For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked”. Marcus Tullius Cicero
Justice should not employ violence (verbal or physical) and should address violence non-violently. It is not about being right or righteous, but doing right and hungering after righteousness.
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Do you consider yourself a just person in your dealings with others?
How do your actions reflect this in your relationships, within the local community, wider society or the larger world?
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started:
What makes a fair society: https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC106087/kj0716182enn.pdf
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” Mahatma Gandhi