The Lost Meaning of Justice

The terms justice and revenge often get confused with each other. It’s not surprising, though. When the word justice is thrown around in TV shows, Facebook posts, and on protesters’ signs, it’s quite difficult to comprehend what it actually represents.

The traditional meaning of justice defines the virtue as what is rationally due to another person, out of obligation and debt. This established meaning is timeless and is what our forefathers intended it to be in our American society. Unlike revenge, justice removes all emotion and natural instinct from decision-making. It is not about getting even; instead it’s about righting a wrong that is morally fair.

When it comes to our society, it’s important we see justice through this lens. Instead of thinking about how someone else’s fate will make us emotionally feel better, we must think bigger and better. And, news flash: it’s not easy at all. As Robert Jordan says, “Men often mistake killing and revenge for justice. They seldom have the stomach for justice.” This is because actual justice, just like actual love, is not very self-interested.

This concept is magnified when we put it into the context of parenting. Do we seek revenge on our children when they keep us awake all night as newborns? Of course we don’t. We are instead driven by love. Although parenting takes a toll in every way possible, we would never ask our children to repay us for the sacrifices we make for them. We understand that children are growing and developing. In order to thrive, they need proper guidance and discipline, not proper vengeance.

Why don’t we have the same loving intentions with justice when we are dealing with societal issues? Obviously, we will never love our neighbors as much as our own children, but it does not reduce our neighbor’s dignity as a human being. This is NOT to say that we give everyone a get-out-of-jail free card. It just means that we right the wrongs with fair processes that set up our society to have a safe, flourishing environment.

It appears that our own parents were onto something when they said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” The true meaning of justice should permeate into every corner of our lives. It’s a call that is difficult but surely worth it.

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