March 2014 Archives

Creating Justice

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Not everyone wants to see conflict resolved. As someone who works in the field of conflict resolution I tend to think of the best outcome as one in which everyone gets what they least as much as possible. But from time to time (and this afternoon was one of those times) I find myself talking to someone who is asking "What should I do?" but what they are looking for is, "How can I make the other lose as much as possible without getting myself into trouble?"

Certainly there are a good many people who think of justice as a quality that arises when bad people get hurt for hurting good people (i.e. people like us). This is the "logic" behind much of what passes for a criminal justice system. To be clear, I support the presence of a system that determines when people have violated rules for public safety and gives them certain negative consequences as a way of getting their attention and inviting them to change their behavior. In the absence of such a system people tend to behave badly.

But there is a higher form of justice that is about being sure that everyone gets their needs met as much as possible. While we are not making rapid progress in establishing this as the standard across society broadly (though proponents of restorative justice are doing powerfully creative work) we can certainly make this the standard in our own lives. Indeed, in the absence of working to be sure that others get what they need; we will not be able to create what we need.

When we attend to what we need, discern the qualities that are missing for us, act in ways that create these qualities while letting go of the impulse to change others, we succeed in creating what we need and in the process, create what others need as well. But when we are dedicated to ensuring that the other doesn't get what she or he needs we are constrained to act in ways that fail to meet our own needs. We cannot create justice for ourselves by denying it to others.