Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin - Virtue #8 - Justice
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Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin
Virtue #8 - Justice
Have you ever felt cheated? I’m not talking about “someone ate the last donut” kind of cheated, although that is pretty annoying. We’re talking about true injustice - the kind that can feel personal - like finding out that the raise in your performance review was less than you’d expected? Or having to defend your reputation among friends or colleagues when you feel you have nothing to defend. There are also societal injustices and marginalizations that many in our nation face on a daily basis that can often go overlooked, such as prejudice, sexism, classism, and physical or mental disabilities.
We fight for what we feel is fair, but how do we know what is fair? Where do we get the true definition for justice? For centuries, philosophers have debated this question. Justice, like beauty or goodness, is difficult to define. Catholic theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas put it quite nicely when he defined justice as the “constant and perpetual will to render to everyone his due.” Injustice occurs when someone denies an individual or group either the punishment or reward due them.
I think it’s the same idea of justice that Benjamin Franklin had. Those who uphold the laws, rules, and standards are rewarded. Those who do not are punished. People of virtue seek not only for justice in the events that intimately affect them, but for the fair treatment of all, even strangers. A hidden camera show once set up a situation in which a man verbally assaulted a woman in a park in order to see how many people would step in to stop it. Surprisingly, not many people did. It demonstrated that apathy is perhaps the greatest impediment to justice. While many people were minding their own business, an act of injustice was happening to another.
We can choose to be vigilant about pursuing justice for all, including ourselves in an appropriate manner. It starts by understanding the value of all humanity, and fighting for clarity and understanding in a world where many want to stay in their own lanes. Developing empathy for others starts with putting yourself in their shoes, whether you agree with them or not, you can validate that they have their own experiences and point of view that is different that what we have experienced. Justice is born out of seeking to fight for what is good, honorable, and right.
A Note From Dr. Andy
I remember listening to a lecture on the impact of injustice in the work place - where rules and rewards were appropriated in a seemingly arbitrary manner - or worse yet - where certain employees or leaders seemed to be the beneficiary of favoritism. Even though it has been more than a decade since I attended that lecture - the message continues to resonate clearly with me today - that unjust practices absolutely poison groups, cultures, and communities.
Whether the injustice is obvious or perceived - the part of the brain that processes and feels injustice is very primitive - and therefore responds much quicker than our logical newer brain. It appears that the desire for justice in our relationships and communities is literally hardwired into us - and when unjust practices prevail - it will have a significantly negative impact on productivity, wellbeing, communication, and trust! If you are in a position of leadership (and technically, we all are in positions of leadership - even if that means self-leadership) - it is imperative that you be vigilant to address any injustice in your core relationships (with employees, customers, spouse, children, friends, etc.) - and to do this as quickly and effectively as possible.
The consequences of not addressing injustice in a community is that it can very quickly create a toxic culture - where resentments abound (if you have ever felt the sting of resentment - you know it can be consuming, draining, and make it very difficult to focus). In my experience - resentments that never get reconciled are what tend to really destroy marriages and families. Similarly, in 12 step programs - they warn that you cannot hold on to resentments if you want to maintain sobriety (I believe they identify resentments as the number one cause of relapse).
If anyone reading this could use some help addressing injustices they might be experiencing - please contact us - we would be happy to provide some excellent resources that can help you. Oh yeah - and the lecture I attended also addressed all the benefits that come as a result of working in an environment that is fair, just, and empathetic - and suffice to say - I strongly encourage everyone to create, contribute, and pursue such conditions!!
How to Develop the Virtue of Justice
The next time you’re unsure if what you’re about to say will be sincere, ask yourself these three simple questions:
Be Just in Your Communications. Last week, we talked about the virtue of sincerity. When we are insincere with others, we deny that person the right to truth. This is an injustice. When we gossip about another person, we blacken the name of that person without allowing them a chance to defend themselves. This is also injustice.
Practice Justice in the Workplace. A just employer will pay their employees what they deserve. Just employers also don’t cut corners, and don’t try to get their employees to work overtime without pay. They don’t try to cheat their employees out of benefits they have earned. In turn, just employees don’t cheat their employer by goofing off when they are being paid to work. They don’t call in sick when they are really nursing a hangover or simply playing hooky.
Speak Up For Others. Another way you can exercise justice in your community is to stand up for individuals who you think are being abused physically, mentally, or emotionally by others. We often try to avoid getting involved in other people’s lives, but if you see an act of abuse going on, don’t stand idly by. Do something and speak out against abuse.