The problem with “social justice”, part 5

This series of posts was inspired by the strong debate over the phrase “social justice.” Political conservatives view social justice as a redistribution of wealth intent on destroying personal initiative. Liberals counter that social justice is a necessary exercise because those who “have” show no inclination to help those who have not.

photo courtesy of Constantin Jurcut

That context left me thinking about the phrase and how much energy is expended defending the two ends of the continuum.

Most people I know — conservative and liberal — are in favor of helping those who are in need. And most people I know prefer a method of providing that allows those who give to have some discretion in guiding their philanthropy.

The problem, they say, is that people just refuse to do enough and, as a result, the less fortunate have had their rights diminished. Thus, we must vigorously pursue “social justice” to force the world into “doing the right thing.” When force is used, however, the “right thing” is more properly phrased as “the thing I believe to be right.”

That led me to assert the following statements in previous posts:

The problem with social justice is that it is based on justice.

The concept of justice as understood in modern culture is essentially self-centered.

Love, not justice, must be the foundation for addressing the problems of the world.

Yet, realistically, people aren’t reacting quickly or compassionately enough to stem the tide of hunger, disease, and atrocities that rises so quickly and routinely in our world. Thus, I made this statement:

Even though addressing social justice issues through the machine of justice is flawed, it is a necessary exercise while the world struggles to find a better way.

You may be asking, “Then why write this series of articles? What was the point?”

The point is this:

We should never give up on humanity. We must continue looking for ways to inspire and motivate right action — even when it is not legislated or demanded.

The model for peace I have been teaching for over a decade equates peace as being an equal balance of justice and mercy.  Just having one or the other is not workable. A corollary would be a model for love — where perfect love in community exists as a result of a perfect balance of social justice and “social mercy.”

In truth, it is the sense of “social mercy” that inspires those most adamantly pursuing “social justice.” Or at least I think it is. Unfortunately, the sometimes radical language of social justice without the equally radical language of social mercy inspires a competitive environment that defeats a spirit of love.

The theory of “social mercy” is not that difficult to grasp. Simply put, it is a willingness . . .

A willingness to take care of others . . .

A willingness to give others the potential to succeed . . .

A willingness to release our fears about the trappings of prestige and power . . .

A willingness balanced with social justice that naturally and gracefully places value on children, women and men as the creation of a God who loves.

The courts and armies enforce social justice. The kindness and will of caring individuals nurture social mercy.

The development of social mercy will require a shift in our priorities and a recalibration of our values. Neither of these can be legislated or mandated by even the most benevolent of dictators or legislatures. Social mercy will emerge as a societal quality when we have walked its path with our children, stopping along the way to bind the wounds of our enemies and to feed our neighbors.

Social justice isn’t the long-term answer. A competitive game only emphasizes the need for winners and losers. Our only hope is to develop our capacity for social mercy. And that capacity is built one person at a time.

I hope you will look for and join a social mercy community. I hope to turn more attention to this important quest in the near future.  Please share your ideas on ways this might be encouraged.

Love in Community = Social Justice + Social Mercy.

Become a leader in the social mercy movement.

The problem with “social justice”, part 4

Situational irony. I’ve been asked to present a brief devotional thought based on a chapter from a book that presents problems for me.

The book is on social justice and the particular chapter I’ve been assigned is entitled “Why Should We Do Justice?” If you don’t find that ironic, let me remind you what I’ve said so far in this series of articles.

The problem with social justice is that it is based on justice.

The concept of justice as understood in modern culture is essentially self-centered.

Love, not justice, must be the foundation for addressing the problems of the world.

In all fairness to the author, I haven’t thoroughly explored his concepts. But a quick scan makes it appear that he takes the opposite view on all of these statements. The author speaks of justice as the end game.  He sees justice as the ultimate in caring for others. And, he seems to say that simply asking people to love others is not sufficient because love does not provide sufficient motivation to achieve the purposes of justice.

I believe that the author and I want the same thing. We want to take care of people. We want to recognize the value of every individual. We want the basic needs of all to be met. We want others to join us in those initiatives.

The difference is really the underlying foundation of this whole series.  The problem with social justice as it is trumpeted politically is that it is ultimately based on self-centered justice. “We have decided what is right and good based on what we want and what we think that we deserve. Justice enforces our standards. Everyone else should comply.”

I hope you’ll read the following statement very carefully.

Even though addressing social justice issues through the machine of justice is flawed, it is a necessary exercise while the world struggles to find a better way.

When I teach others about peace, I use a model that defines peace as an “equal balance of justice and mercy.” As we go deeper into that model, we can further say that peace requires a balance of concerns for self and for others.

Thus, if peace is to live up to its reputation as the most perfect of conditions (and it is, by the way), it seems to me that . . .

“Social Justice” must be balanced with “Social Mercy.”

In my next article, I will explore ways that social mercy leads to hope . . . and how hope paves a path toward a better way.

(Photo courtesy of Shlomit Wolf at stock.xchng)


The problem with “social justice”, part 2

Is there really a problem with “social justice?”

In part 1 of this series, I suggested that:

The problem with social justice is that it is based on justice.

Obviously, the important question to pursue is “What is justice?” By definition, “justice” is:

a: the quality of being just, impartial, or fair
: the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2): conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness
c: the quality of conforming to law

What could be more right than justice? Being impartial? Being fair?

Justice, when approached purely, is a divine gift and a blessing. The pure approach, however, requires its champion to take personal advancement or protection out of the equation. Pure justice is fueled with the good of others as its only motivation.

Unfortunately, the way that we individually determine what justice looks like is through our own particular lens.

What would be fair when applied to me?  What are my rights? Once I have settled those egocentric “truths,” I must decide whether I am then willing to “share” my rights with all others.

The concept of justice as understood in modern culture is essentially self-centered.

Troublesome idea, isn’t it? And unattractive for those of us who have carried justice as the banner for our desire to help others. However, even this egocentric approach can be a blessing if we ground it in an essential truth we’ll look at next time.

Things that Foster Dog taught me, part 1

As I write, I’m thinking about a wonderful, four-legged friend who has become a rich part of our lives over the past couple of years.  Zoe, aka Foster Dog, was a temporary placement at our house. She was much too big for our small yard and we had another dog and . . .  the list actually grew quite long . . . and then magically disappeared.

But Nancy and I were drawn to the shy and gentle giant — half Great Pyrenees, quarter Siberian Husky, quarter wolf. When, at her first check-up, we learned that she had a heart murmur and an ear infection, we began to think that perhaps we should take care of her for a while.  The ear infection has been persistent and treated off-and-on.  And, of course, the heart murmur has only worsened — severely in the last month.

So now, Zoe is quietly resting for most of each day as various physical problems arise from the lack of oxygen. Visitors have always been a great treat for Zoe.  Her routine is to make an initial sniff-down and then retire to a point about 20 feet away where she silently guards both us and the newcomer.  But yesterday, when the lawn people came to fertilize, she stayed in her house watching from her front door.

Her only prolonged physical activity at this point is when we make the idle suggestion that we are ready for a walk if she is. Head held high, Zoe trots quickly to the gate to wait for her leash and her favorite part of the day.

The walk.

It pains us to take Zoe on walks now. While she seems fine (just a little slower) during the time strolling and sniffing, her recovery time gets longer each day. The veterinarian tells us that we should let her do whatever she wants to do.

And Foster Dog loves to walk.  So we walk.

I’m inclined to reason that perhaps it’s time to slow down and let this part of the daily routine cease.  But Zoe doesn’t think it’s time to stop. She seems to be saying, “God wants us, above all things, to experience true joy through His will for our lives. His will for me is walking. People wave to me. Children hug me. I sniff new smells and meet new dogs. I’m happy.”

So I have to ask, even in the face of great challenge, where does God unleash joy in your life? It’s a question I’m asking every day . . . on our walks.

Stuff I don’t understand

Many people consider me to be on top of technology . . . except for that select circle of friends and advisors who know better.

While it’s true that I’ll take a small amount of time to look into those problems that arise in the midst of my techno-life, I’m usually rescued by those who notice that I’m thrashing about and who throw me a life-preserver.  That life-preserver most often comes in the form of a link to a help page or a fix that someone has come up with. Nevertheless, it generally works and I’m on my way.

I used to be bothered by the fact that I couldn’t understand something or come to a solution.  Although I have to admit to some frustration when things get a little rocky, I’m learning that some things just aren’t mine to understand.

And as I grow older, I’m also seeing that the areas of my misunderstanding are pretty widespread. Yet, time and time again, friends and advisors, come to my rescue. I see those individuals as special appointees — not appointed by me, but by a divine one who knows my every need.

So, while not understanding used to bring me grief, now I’m beginning to see it as an opportunity to enjoy times of God-sent relationship.