Monday, April 16, 2012

Justice is not for Just Us

 Funny things stick in your mind.

Buried somewhere in mine is a phrase from the sixties that went, "Justice is not just for us." I can't quite remember who said it or why. I tried googling the phrase, but came up empty. Instead Google gave me some meaningless platitudes and book titles. Catchy saying.

To the best of my memory the phrase dealt with civil rights. Someone, somewhere,  sometime was struck by a sense of inequality in how justice was dealt out. It was probably a Southern thing, for back in the Sixties the idea of inequality had a southern ring to it. But, I have learned over time that justice doesn't apply only to race relations. And surely someone was using the phrase in labor negotiations, property disputes, and anything that could come before the powers that be.

I think of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. At the burial of Caesar, Brutus appears before the crowd and  says justice is killing Caesar for his ambition.  Antony replies, "Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff ..." Justice ..., Shylock from the Merchant of Venice means to exact his right, a pound of flesh from Antonio for a failed debt. That is justice, in one man's eye. Justice too often is thought to mean give us what we want, and not what is right.

Justice is not something that we can tie up neatly in a package and offer to everyone. No, justice depends on many things, not the least of which is what your beef is. And everyone has a different argument to make in any dispute. That is why it is so hard to dispense justice. One man's justice is another man's tyranny.

The other day, the phrase took on a new meaning for me. A dispute arose and there were the usual suspects,  one person said this happened, another said not so, this happened, and another side said something completely different from the other two. Justice for the one jail, for another an apology, and for another a deeper understanding of compassion for our fellow human beings.

The Cranky Old Man has lived long enough now to realize that we don't always get what we want. Sometimes we never get what we want. That sucks. But if we are going to get anything close to what we want, we have to compromise.

That is why the phrase, "Justice is not for Just Us," came back to me after all these years. My idea of justice just isn't going to happen. And the funny thing is that I doubt that anyone is going to get what they are looking for. "The whole thing has gotten out of control; there is no way out," someone told me. One person has developed an ulcer worrying over things, another has been sleepless at night, and the last is still waiting for an apology. Justice won't come to anyone. Still the striking fact is that the pain and terror that comes with anger at being denied justice is shared by all.

Justice is not just for us, but the sense of remorse and anxiety is shared by all.

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