The second principle of the UUA is “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations”. Those are not, as with the first principle, words that agree with each other in all situations; seeing the value in a person makes it easy to grant them dignity. Demanding justice sometimes finds itself at odds with granting compassion. Equality is hard enough as its own ideal. I’ve been told by a UU minister that this is a “difficult tension to actually practice”, which seems to me to be why it is important to put them together.
We have to balance each against the others. Justice isn’t the same as Equality. Justice is about the being impartial and fair in our dealings, ascribing fair compensation or punishment as consequences for the actions of others. Equality says that we must treat all people the same way, according to their actions and abilities and not based on factors they can’t control such as race or gender or choices that are irrelevant to the current situation. Already, we have the problem of acknowledging that, in needing to keep an eye towards equality, we can’t seek justice blindly. Difference in need or culture levels of ability have to be taken into account, calling for compassion in our decision making. Compassion, which Merriam-Webster defines as “”sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”, calls us to understand the reasons behind the actions of others and to temper our reactions in light of their needs and stressors.
Balancing these goals is difficult. When we are under stress, in pain or afraid, it can be hard to be rational. It can be impossible to be compassionate. We Unitarian Universalists have promised to strive for but rationality and compassion in all our dealings. We know that Justice must be done for the good of society. We accept that equality requires vigilance by each of us, and an acceptance to stand against what is popular or passionate to defend the rights of our fellow human beings. We also know that we cannot do what we have promised ourselves and our communities coldly, unemotionally; we must act with compassion for those we stand with and any we must stand against. We affirm that these three goals should be taken together; balanced against each other to give emotion strength of logic, and reason the edge that comes with passion.
We promote these ideals together by listening to all sides of a conversation. It has been said by many that a UU would rather spend eternity discussing the possibilities and limits of heaven than in Heaven its self; we love discussion and debate.We encourage tolerance, if not acceptance; we want to open minds more than we want to change them. Our congregations teach our children to respect all cultures and ideas as the works of other Humans, worthy of respect and understanding. We promote debate on ideas in all levels of government, reminding each other that, even where we disagree on how to do it, we all seek to make our world a better place for everyone.
It is my opinion that this is the second hardest principle to live up to, but it is crucial for moving on in the list. We have to acknowledge that each person is valuable. The next step is to translate that into a set of values for interacting with others. This is an outline for our relationships; justice, equity and compassion in human relations. It is a balancing act, but helps us keep the right goals in perspective and, we hope, will lead us to positive outcomes for our families, our communities, and our world.