Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Justice and Forgiveness Roundtable

Once upon a time, I subscribed to the League of Justice approach to life. I believed I was obligated to right every wrong. I thought forgiveness was for sissies, and justice via the legal system was a necessity. I was angry, and I considered it a righteous anger, fuel for needed improvements in the world.

Just slap a white tunic with a red cross on it over my head and call me Crusader.

This was my response to Not Being a Victim. I'd been gotten before and by gosh not only would I never be gotten again, I'd work my tush off ensuring that nobody else got gotten either.

Instead of being stuck in a dysfunctional psychodrama in which I alternated between trespassee and trespasser, I set myself to the side in the role of avenger.

Then one day, in my hometown of Pleasantville, I awoke and the world was color. I realized that life wasn't a cheap melodrama in which we are locked into caricature roles. I grew to understand that instead we have complex characters, and the vantage point from which you view people and situations is everything.

I took a hard look at myself and observed that I perpetuated the cycle of violence, victimization, and victimhood by cementing myself into one role, and others into another role.

Most importantly, just as I finally grasped that money isn't the only currency, I had another developmental spurt, and comprehended that justice isn't limited to the court system and prisons aren't exclusive to large blocky structures in out of the way towns.

Justice is integral to a society. People need to know the rules, and the consequences for breaking them. People must understand that there is a line, and if you cross it, you are no longer welcome in polite company.

It's always my hope that nobody gets to the point of being removed from society. It's always my hope that we can prevent, or at least intervene, before it gets to that point. But the cracks are large, and many people fall through. This is our problem, our responsibility.

It's also always my hope that once someone has been removed from society they will accept the opportunity before them---despite its many challenges---to work towards freedom from their metaphorical prison while trapped within the literal prison.

The metaphorical prison being so much more influential to our actions, after all.

But too many people can't see that opportunity---don't get help seeing it---can't get past their own victimhood, to see the harm they rain down on others...to see how they themselves have morphed from victim to victimizer. And so the cycle continues.

Thus, we must incorporate forgiveness---a turning of the other cheek, simplistically and metaphorically speaking---to create life not trapped in the cycle of violence.

And what does turning the other cheek, forgiving, really mean?

It means turning your attention; it means viewing it from another angle; it means weighting it differently.

It doesn't mean evaluating the people and actions, designating one as right and one as wrong, and assigning reward and punishment, as justice does.

It doesn't mean accepting something as okay. It means being okay anyway, or being okay because.

It also doesn't require a grant. By this I mean it doesn't require one person to bestow forgiveness as a just reward.

Most importantly, it doesn't mean reconciliation with another person, although it does ask for an internal reconciling.

But first, we always ask, how could this have happened? Why? What can we do? and thus discussion runs circles around the key concepts of justice (which is public) and forgiveness (which is personal).

I say, when reaching for that answer about what to do, ask, "What will create a sense of hope and empowerment? And how can we keep that going, spread it further, use that to hopefully prevent...?"

In just a minute, I'm going to list some of the best bloggers around who address---in their very individual, but collectively thoughtful and eloquent, ways---ideas about justice and forgiveness.

But first, I'm going to tell you about an initiative that has recently attracted me. I learned about this through Naomi Judd. Don't ask. And if you know, don't tell. ;)

The initiative is Amnesty International's Imagine Campaign.

It should figure that I am initially attracted to anything musical, especially what is possibly one of my most favorite songs and poems ever. So while that garnered my attention---another reason why I love the tactic: the attention-grabbingness of it---it's the movement and action behind it that has held my interest:

Yoko Ono Lennon has given Amnesty International a wonderful and generous gift: the rights to use her late husband's song "Imagine" in a campaign for human rights. In her words:

"Those who know the song 'Imagine' understand that it was written with a very deep love for the human race and a concern for its future. It is about the betterment of the world for our children and ourselves. Like the song, Amnesty International gives a voice to the importance of human rights. And like the song, it has been able to effect change."

Imagine
expresses the hope and idealism that inspire Amnesty International's vision: that of a world in which every person enjoys all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In its appeal to the power of imagination, the song echoes Amnesty International's faith in the power of the ordinary individual to make a difference.


That's Gandhi's influence: the power of one...never underestimate the difference one person can make.

(It amazes me that I lived in a world with both Gandhi and Mother Theresa. Who are their successors? I live in anticipation.)

Once we are all dignified with human rights, I think---truly---that we can enjoy justice, and forgiveness, and a non-violent world. Or at least one in which violence isn't the first---or last---response.

So what is the answer?

Some of the best minds around tackle this question. Prepare to have your mind blow, just a little. Mine has.

Now, without further ado, the Fabulous Bloggers responding to the call of Hump Day Hmmm's call to address Justice and Forgiveness:

Gwen at Woman on the Verge wrote This Little Light of Mine

Jen at One Plus Two wrote i choose neither

Chani at Thailand Gal wrote Cho Seung-Hui and Compassion....

Kaliroz at Fortune and Glory (after a cup of coffee) wrote Forgiveness.

Mary-LUE at Life, the Universe and Everything wrote Justice v. Forgiveness: Which is of Greater Necessity?

Aliki of World of One Thousand Different Things wrote Shame

Boogiemum wrote Justice v. Forgiveness - What I have learned…

K at After the Ball wrote Justice for Frogs

Sage at Notsosage wrote WWW XI: Ravin' Song

Atypical at Nonsensical Text wrote weighted in the balance...and found wanting

Bub and Pie wrote Forgiveness

Cece at It Is What it Is wrote ForJustiveness

NOTE: There is still space. I know quite a few of you said you'd have something later today, tomorrow or later this week. I'm leaving this up for a bit, so don't feel cut off or rushed. You can put it up on your blog, or email it to me for here, as Slouching Mom did, or simply participate by commenting (we love writers and commenters equally). There will still be space. I'm saving a seat for you, so come sit by me.

Slouching Mom wrote:

Which is of greater necessity - justice or forgiveness?

Let’s pretend that Monday’s shooter did not succeed in killing himself. What would have happened? Obviously, there would have been a trial. He would have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison, if not to death. Justice would have been served to the extent that one believes that imprisoning someone is a punishment. Certainly if he had been sentenced to death, he would have been punished, although many of us would argue that the punishment in that case is highly immoral.

Had he been allowed to go free, part of the foundation for society would have been eroded, because we live together under the assumption that what holds for one person holds for all the rest. If that assumption is violated, there is no reason for people to choose to continue to live in a society. Living in a society requires certain sacrifices, sacrifices that people would be unwilling to make without the assurance that they would be treated no differently in a court of law than any other member of the society.

So justice is a necessary prerequisite for society and also helps maintain it.

Now what happens if a set of parents who lost their child in Monday’s shootings chooses to forgive the shooter? Forgiveness sets an example for other people. It shows others that human beings can transcend their individual circumstances, rise above individual pain and suffering. Forgiveness proves our humanity. Forgiveness encourages us all to strive to be more civilized and more generous, whether or not we ourselves choose to forgive.

So forgiveness helps maintain, and perhaps even elevate, society.

So which is more important? I’d reluctantly choose justice, because while justice is important to both the formation and the maintenance of society, forgiveness becomes a motivator only after a society has been established.

All that said, I’m more interested in forgiveness. Forgiveness is difficult, and, I think, rare. It requires subsuming one’s own pain and anger in favor of the common good. It is maybe the most humane gesture there is.

18 comments:

Mary-LUE said...

"Once upon a time, I subscribed to the League of Justice approach to life."

I think we were similar in that way, Julie. Maybe in part it was due to the idealism and energy of youth, which eventually got tempered by the wisdom of maturity and experience. Maybe we got farther down the road, looked back and found a different perspective.

I've already been over to Jen's post and will work my way through these others over the next day.

Thanks for creating this forum.

jen said...

Ah, Julie. I know about the Justice League you speak of.

As I wander around to other's approachs in taking on this topic, it makes me want to ask:

Ok, Julie, now where are you going to go with this next? It seems that the next logical order would be to pose a deeper question within today's question based on all the points of view, and see about us hashing through it again. As well (if I may be so bold, er, bossy, would be to ask you if there are, in final analysis at a later date, any assumptions we can make about the sum of our collective thoughts.

You know, in your spare time.

Julie Pippert said...

Jen, Great minds baby!

I've already been noting the different and similar points, the convergences and divergences, and the approaches.

I already know at least three points from various posts that I want to latch on to:

1. Forgiveness and compassion

2. Asking for and bestowing forgiveness: pros, cons, rights, wrongs

3. Distinguishing identifying wrong via concept of justice, but considering intent for consequence and forgiveness

oh and

4. Reconciliation (which is really the next logical topic from this, IMO)

My next step was to ask folks for their wants, needs, ideas, for next step. :)

Some thoughts I had are:

A. Challenge (posted in the comments section here for grouping and efficiency):

1. Describe your entrance vehicle to this topic, e.g. personal anecdote, definition of concept, literary, current events, etc. (one sentence).

2. Pull the most representative and salient point about both concepts from your blog in the form of one sentence.

3. Pull the point from another rountabler's post that most resonated with you (in an agreement way). Write it in your own words, note the origin of it, and briefly explain why it struck you. Max 3 sentences.

4. Pull the point from another roundtabler's post that most resonated with you (in a disagreement sort of way). Write it in your own words, note the origin of it, and briefly explain your take on it. Max 3 sentences.

5. What concept do you believe logically follows this topic?

Thoughts? Ideas? Input?

I will gladly continue to moderate right here.

This is truly fantastic.

P.S. The Justice League, not to be confused with the JUNIOR League (LOL), is actually a really intriguing sort of metaphor for the concepts of justice. Wouldn't it be so very geeky fun to consider the original members, the concepts they represent, and discuss? Or have I just geeked out way too far? LOL

kaliroz said...

The power of one.

I think that's really what everything of meaning in this world boils down to.

bubandpie said...

Hey Julie - This has been fantastic. I'll be getting my post up later tonight.

slouching mom said...

Thank you for organizing this. It's made for fascinating reading.

thailandchani said...

This has made for some fascinating reading. :) I've gotten value from all the posts, all the perspectives.

Even though many of us think differently, I think we can agree that justice and forgiveness are social constructs and will change and/or evolve as societies grow and evolve.

Then one day, in my hometown of Pleasantville, I awoke and the world was color. I realized that life wasn't a cheap melodrama in which we are locked into caricature roles. I grew to understand that instead we have complex characters, and the vantage point from which you view people and situations is everything.

Exactly.

I do remember my time, long ago, when I was trapped into the "Justice League", always looking for violations, keeping score, keeping the metaphorical hash marks in place.

It sapped more energy than I care to remember these days. It was a futile effort because life itself is complex and messy.

The sooner we realize that, the sooner we escape the prison you speak of.


Peace,

~Chani

CeCe said...

Julie -- I'm going to add something soon... today was a much longer day than I wanted it to be, and I still have to finish my book for my book club meeting tomorrow!! So I'll be joining the discussion soon... I haven't even had time to read through everything yet... might need to be the weekend...Thanks!!

Gwen said...

Okay, Miss Julie. When the circles under my eyes threaten to take over my entire face because SOMEONE has been keeping me up all night ... well, where's the justice then, huh?

Here's something I've been thinking, and I haven't played it all out yet, so be patient if it doesn't yet make sense. The original question was, which is of greater necessity, right? One of the things I mentioned on my post was how small my opinion felt, how narrow in its scope, and people replied that society is made up of individuals, of small people making small choices that in sum become a culture. And someone here (was it Slouching Mom?) noted that justice seemed top down, while forgiveness was more bottom up. I hope I restated that correctly.

While it seems lovely to say that culture is created from the bottom up, too, I wonder why it doesn't feel that way. I feel like something is missing in this discussion or that the question needs to be reframed to encompass the way larger group psychology--which is its own beast and not merely the result of many individual choices--informs the debate.

It's nice to think that each individual matters and they do, WE do, but there's more to it, isn't there?

K said...

"But too many people can't see that opportunity---don't get help seeing it---can't get past their own victimhood, to see the harm they rain down on others...to see how they themselves have morphed from victim to victimizer. And so the cycle continues."

I can't tell you how this resonates with me. It is terrifying how easy it is to get caught up in this vicious cycle.

Yeah that would be a tunic for me too.

And I can't listen to Imagine without tearing up.

Julie Pippert said...

Thanks back to every participant! Posts and comments alike have been amazing, enlightening.

I look forward to all of the additional participants! Cece, B&P, and all, can't wait to see you get your game on!

Like I said, I am holding this open so there will be a spot at the table for you.

Gwen, my friend, I have one quick thought for you and then the Thainess of tonight (geez Chani thought of you at least 10 times tonight) will send me packing it off to Sheetville:

The concept of justice top down and forgiveness bottom up works only a little.

Again, this is because it is a linear concept and if anything, I am 100% a three dimensional thinker.

(In fact, my flow charts are everyone's favorite "rag on Julie" topic. I am SO never going to live down my webbing notes and the engineering flow chart/decision tree I created for the big fundraiser. Dude, you'd think these people never saw Visio before in their lives.)

I don't think concepts typically flow in a straight line.

Justice is just as formed and informed by the grassroots as the grassroots is by the established concept of justice. But neither is static, so there is a flow to the exchange and form. We just have to identify it, then hop in and work there.

Same goes for forgiveness.

See what I mean? Any sense here?

jen said...

i was thinking today that having defining the concept initially might allow us to formulate our thoughts around the same concept, albeit open to individual interpretation and life experience of course...but it seems like the next question should be a subset of this one, with a working definition included?

atypical said...

well, I managed a post. I am not the slightest bit sure I captured what I was trying to say, though.

I'll have to read everyone else tomorrow (or later today if I choose to believe the clock).
-t

Julie Pippert said...

Atypical, got you! Great post!

**************************************

Jen, what question have you got in mind?

thailandchani said...

The Thainess of last night? LOL

:)


Peace,

~Chani

Mad Hatter said...

Thanks for doing this, Julie. I have not been in a philosophical mind-set this week or I may have participated.

I will say that there are people in this world carrying on from Mother Thersa and Ghandi. Stephen Lewis' fight aginst HIV/AIDS in Africa is just one example.

As for the justice/forgiveness divide, I am with Jen in that it need not be an either or. Rather than replacing these two concepts with compassion, I would add the need for compassion and the need for insight/reflection in trying to create a world that is truly just.

Julie Pippert said...

Mad, thanks for pointing out Stephen Lewis. I think my successor point was focusing from the angle of posthumous collection of life's work. How much mor eimportant to consider the alive, well, and doing much currently.

Participation is through comments as well as posts, and each is just as valuable because it provides discussion.

Like your compassion point. Awesoem thing to ponder.

Perhaps compassion is a principle that ought to guide every hand dealing with the concepts of justice and forgiveness.

Alice said...

Thanks so much for your post and the roundtable discussion. I enjoyed reading all of the posts. So exhilirating to find so many powerful voices out there.