It seems to me that people have an idea that justification is a negative thing. To some extent, I can agree–many times people feel the need to justify themselves because of someone that is actively seeking to shame them for their behavior…and in this case, justification is a negative thing. But ultimately, (positive) justification is simply the act of demonstrating (seeking to demonstrate) that something is reasonable*. Sometimes, demonstrating that something is reasonable (or even vital) is a good thing (or even a necessary one).
A few days ago, I came across this post in my blog reader. At first glance, I agreed with most of it (although, having had friend killed by a drunk driver, and having grown up with an alcoholic father, I had a slight problem with the wording of number 13). But. (Because there wouldn’t be a blog post without the but.) Upon further reflection on the idea of justification over all, I have to say the idea of not having to justify one’s self ever, at all, to anyone, is a mistaken one that comes from a place of some pretty intense privilege. I’d like to add that I am not saying that the blog post in question is advocating this, but rather that the blog post was the impetus for this line of thought. Unfortunately, the idea of not needing to justify one’s anything seems a bit prevalent in today’s society in general, and in our Pagan communities online and off in particular. And I sort of think that’s bullshit.
There are things that we do have to justify in life.
I can’t help but think that I would have loved that post when I was 23 and single and childless and financially answerable only to myself. Because…for that brief moment, it was true. But. I have commitments. I have responsibilities. I live as part of a family and a community and a society in which my actions impact other people. I do not live in a vacuum. There is no such thing as living without justification when one has commitments and responsibilities.
Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to justify everything to everyone. But in the real world, coming from a place of pragmatism, we do sometimes actually owe people reasonable explanations for things.
All of us have to justify our actions to someone (even if that is ourselves). It does matter how much you drink, it does matter what food you eat, it does matter what clothing you wear. I’m not saying this to shame anyone that drinks like a sailor in port after 6 months at sea, likes ice cream, has to shop at Wal-mart. I’m just saying that every action has a consequence–for example, shopping at Wal-mart props up unfair and unethical work and manufacturing processes (but when kid needs shoes for school, and your budget is tight, it might be the only option you have). It may not be fair that it matters, but “fair” is an entirely different discussion.
What we do affects the others around us in direct and indirect ways.
Look, when it comes to beliefs, the only person we need to justify them to is ourselves–but if we are taking that inward thing and putting it out there in word or deed, we better be able to justify its effects upon others in a way that they welcome (or at least respect).
Ooh! Glad you asked!!
1.) I don’t have to justify my beliefs to you or anyone.
2) You don’t have to justify your beliefs to me or anyone.
3) I don’t have to justify those of my practices that only affect myself and those I have a commitment to and a responsibility for to anyone but them.
4) You don’t have to justify those of your practices that only affect yourself and those you have a commitment to and a responsibility for to anyone but them.
But. When we interact with one another, not having to justify our respective beliefs does not mean disrespecting one another over them, or being complicit in another being disrespectful of them. When we engage in services for one another, we very much need to justify our practices and how we carry them out (including whether or not their are ethical) to those we are seeking to serve, to their satisfaction. When our practices have the potential to cause harm or when our words have the potential to cause strife, the idea that we don’t need to justify ourselves (or attempt to do so) is selfish and self-serving.
Justifying your words or your deeds isn’t about apologizing for them (although it can be in some cases). (Positive) Justification is not about seeking approval for one’s actions (although it may be reasonable to do so in some cases, depending on whom they affect). Justification is also not about making excuses for your decisions. Instead, it should be about helping something make sense to someone that doesn’t understand where you are coming from or why you have made a particular choice as well as a claiming of responsibility that includes an acknowledgement of how one impacts others around them.
*An alternate definition of justify is “to prove that one is right”, but that isn’t the particular nuance I’m talking about right now–that is more in line with the “shaming” idea.