Chalica Day 2: Justice, Equity, and Compassion

Today, we look at the balancing act that the second Unitarian Universalist Principle can be. Today, we ponder ways to promote “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations“, and 2 out of three are pretty easy in most situations. It isn’t hard to look at a situation and come up with something that seems just and equitable, or equitable and compassionate. It can, at times, be a real trick to be both Just and Compassionate. It is crucial to our mission to try, though.

This Principle, to me, is a corollary to the first (which I believe to be true of 2 others as well). If we posit or presume that all people have inherent worth and dignity, then we must, as a matter of conscience, strive to treat them fairly and compassionately. We have to respect that each person is, (again, at least inherently) as valuable and capable of good as any other, and while we must react to their individual choices and actions in a manner that reflects the impact those choices have on the rest of humanity (Justice), we must also react in a way that acknowledges their capacity to correct their mistakes and encourages them to make positive contributions (Compassion). All the while, we have to try to do both in a way that encourages everyone else to live up to their potential and allows them to find their own way in the world, with opportunity for education and a reasonable quality of life while they find their path (Equity).

This is such an easy Principle to play up in the Unitarian Universalist version of prayer, communion, and reconciliation: social justice work. Still,  it can be a very tricky one to truly live out and nurture in our hearts. Just as most of us will doubt many times, in life and often in a single day, the inherent worth and dignity in people we interact with or read about in the news, it can be hard to feel both compassion and justice when we read about victims and perpetrators of crimes and atrocities around town and around the world. Sometimes, we find it easy to sympathize with the needs or the motivations of a particular criminal, or we find them pathetic or enduring, and we don’t want to see them left to the mercy of our criminal justice system and our prisons. In other cases, we find it easy to seek vengeance for wrong doing, and we believe that a person deserves the worst that our system can give them. I argue that in both cases, the person deserves the best our system can give them, and that the proper course is to reform the system to make sure that it recognizes the potential for both types of criminal to make better choices if they are offered better options. We have to balance both impulses to reach an equitable outcome that leaves the whole of humanity better off.

This Principle, to me, is a statement of how we put the the first Principle into practice in the wide world, and what mindset we use to remind ourselves that we must be both optimistic when we encounter people making bad choices, but realistic about the changes we seek in the world. This Principle is the foundation for much of what Unitarian Universalism truly is in the world today, from the Standing on the Side of Love campaign(s) to our local work with food banks and groups like Hearts and Hammers or Habitat for Humanity. We tend to be really good at manifesting the Principle in the world, but let’s make a point today about trying to do so thoughtfully and in a way that cements this ideal in our minds and hearts. Remember, as you serve your community, that this is an effort to not just relieve suffering, but to help someone find their dignity and to affirm their worth to the world.

This isn’t a stand alone idea, that we ought to be just, equitable, and compassionate because it is good for us to look the part of a good person. We must act this out, mindful that what we are doing is living out our belief in the Principle of Worth and Dignity. We are not being good to others out of guilt or obligation, or even because it is what we would want done for us. We do it so that the people we help can share their gifts and experiences with the world and bring us closer to a complete understanding of creation. We do it to empower them and the whole of the next generation to live lives of worth an dignity. We do it out of love for humanity, even when it can be hard to love the human we are facing.

2 Responses

  1. I’ve come back to re-read this after the shootings on Friday, and I have to say it’s a much tougher read today. I said some things yesterday expressing regret that the man had killed himself because he now isn’t available to receive “justice.”

    To be clear, the things I was imagining for him wouldn’t have been justice. Even though they would never have felt like enough punishment for the horror and despair he caused, they also would have been atrocious things to do to another human being. The only way to come close to exacting enough suffering to equal the suffering he caused would require everyone to pretend that he wasn’t a real person and had gone through no pain of his own. That’s not justice or compassion.

    I’m not ready to even think about being compassionate toward him, but it’s tugging at the edges of the hate. I’d like to be ready to address his mental health needs, but I’m still in the denying stage. I still want all the kids to come home. I want their moms and dads to get them ready for school in the morning.

    • There are times when we will question every one of our principles; all those of the association and all of those that we hold individually. The ability to question what we believe and the continued application in our lives is essential to a liberal faith that grows and stays relevant.

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