The Unitarian Universalist Association has a list of seven principles that its congregations (and members) affirm and promote. The second of these principles calls for “justice, equity and compassion in human relations”, but in practice, I think this principle should be named after the fifth of the Delphic Maxims–to “be overcome by justice”.
Be overcome by justice.
If you look at a few definitions of justice (including its etymological history), there are a couple of key words that emerge. Fairness. Equity. Impartiality. Due reward (or punishment). Vindication of right. It is a nuanced term with a variety of interpretations and applications by persons with differing opinions and values. For me, justice is about treating all persons with fairness–sometimes with equity, and sometimes with equality (which are not the same thing), and figuring out which is the more appropriate way to handle any given situation.
Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.
~Martin Luther King, Jr
But what about being overcome by justice? What the heck does that even mean? Most definitions of overcome seem a bit negative–to defeat in conflict, to overpower, to conquer or defeat, to subdue…and I’m pretty sure this maxim doesn’t mean to get your butt kicked by justice. So there has to be another way to look to look at things.
And I think that “another way” is where the UU 2nd principle meets Delphic Maxim #5. Being overcome by justice, I think, means to be an instrument of justice: To affirm and promote justice for all persons–fairness under the law, impartiality in our dealings with others as respect to their personal beliefs, equity in our responsibilities to society, equality in human rights.
I once read a blog post by Diane Sylvan that meant enough to me at the time that I quoted the relevant parts on my own blog about two years ago. I’ve never been able to find the post again, but the phenomenon she describes here, for emotion, is the perfect explanation of how we are should be called to be an instrument of justice. I think it is best described like this: To cause change, justice must become energy, so in order to be expressed, it must first move through you. The justice that you express will come back to you–but first it starts with you and within you. You have to feel justice. Feel it in the very fiber of your being. And only then, when it has filled you, can it overflow into others.
Its not so much about being overcome by justice, as to let justice come over you, into your heart, and to burn out the prejudice, the pettiness, the hate, the fear. Only then can we hope to be just.
The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
(this has been part of the “Delphic Maxim Blogging Party“, that was recently started by Star Foster, and is going on right now–if anyone else is participating in blogging about the Delphic Maxims, feel free to let me know, and I’ll add you to my link list!)