“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Over recent weeks we have all been caught up in the enormity of the Covid-19 pandemic and its deadly effect. On top of this worldwide worry, on the 25th May a shock wave went round the world, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, USA. Protests against racism have followed, reminding us that there are millions of people in the world who profoundly feel a deep sense of injustice at the way they are treated. We need to be reminded that justice is a basic human right, but what is it?
Justice is the greatest of virtues to possess. Justice may be described as a super value, as it embodies a range of other values such as equality, truth, reason, and equity. Aristotle called it a complete value because you cannot have any of the other values without it. He said that equity (fairness) is the living form of justice and underpinning it are prudence, intelligence, courage, fidelity, generosity, tolerance. If we are just, then we have embodied the value as one of our virtues.
There are two forms of justice: one based on the laws of a country, the other on moral justice. The two are not always compatible, as laws may be made by the rich and powerful to protect their interests. However, in a democracy there is an expectation that everyone is entitled to moral justice, which is a basic human right of all people, irrespective of class, colour, religion, ethnicity or life-style. Therefore a just person defends the moral law.
It is all too obvious, from looking at scenes in the world news, that the current world order resists equality. In bringing about justice the first stage is for each of us to be aware of injustice, which we may implicitly carry within ourselves. Listening to how we talk about others who may appear on the surface to be different from ourselves. How often do we hear ourselves or others make judgements about the way people look or dress without knowing them? Sometimes these judgements are made because we have developed an unconscious mindset that is based on what our family, social group or newspaper we read states is true – we believe it without questioning its legitimacy. Coming to understand our implicit bias is not an easy process, as it requires complete honesty, objectivity and enough self will to change.
It is good to remember that justice comes before self-interest, so for instance, if you are selling your house, justice demands that you are truthful about its defects as well as its benefits. The golden rule of justice is to put yourself in the other person’s place, knowing what you already know. In this way justice regulates our relationships with others.
How can we ensure that children are educated so that they understand what justice is and its importance for the harmony of the world? Racism has been endemic in countries for generations and individuals and families carry the cultural burdens of the mistreatment of their ancestors as well as themselves.
The response must be a system of education that is based in values, one which nurtures the seeds of justice from within each child, one which promotes justice based on the understanding and living of an ethical vocabulary. Children will challenge their thinking and that of others, when they have access to a deep understanding of what values such as justice mean and how they can live them.
Our education system needs to be reimagined so that it is focused on what it means to be a human being in the 21st Century; what dispositions need to be nurtured to help children to make wise choices that will build their character on the cornerstone of justice.
The photo of the sculpture is of two men -Republican and Unionist- reaching out to each other in Derry, Northern Ireland. The hands are almost touching. It is said that when everyone is convinced that the “troubles” are really over then the two hands will be rearranged to touch each other.
Are we prepared to hold each other’s hands?