Why Justice is Calling for All of Us

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hands_shutterstock_153353432For many of us, “justice,” evokes images of courtrooms, juries and cell walls. We’re taught that justice is the concern of the people in charge of our society’s institutions. Faced with a barrage of images of crime and harmful actions in our surrounding communities, we so often remain on the sidelines and hope that meaningful justice will be done to restore a balance in the social world around us.

Still, we sense that real justice is something more than an external process carried out on perpetrators by those in positions of authority. Each one of us knows the inner experience of anger, confusion and danger when we or those within our communities are affected by violence. We can recall our own mixed emotions when we find ourselves responsible for harming another, even with our words. In our families, places of work, and within our networks and communities we know the delicate balance of trust as we navigate through the subtly changing waters of our own dignity and that of others in relationship to us. Justice and injustice are deeply personal.

Historically, we’ve seen the perils of unrestrained vengeance of citizens united by anger taking justice into our hands. Indeed, it was in part a reaction to the threat of vigilante ‘mob justice’ that gave rise to our current state-administered adversarial justice system. Vengeance that is un-tempered by wisdom and compassion only serves to perpetuate cycles of violence, and too often leaves the thirst for meaningful justice unquenched.

So, can ordinary citizens safely “do” justice? Of course we can. We seek justice every time we wade through a difficult conversation with a loved one, take responsibility for the pain we’ve caused, and humbly make amends. We move toward justice when we confront the neighbor, co-worker, politician or friend whose actions cause harm, and when we support them to do better. We give expression to justice when we treat our children with respect. We foster justice when we speak out about the injustices we see around us, and seek to transform their underlying conditions.

As we move toward positive engagement with the justice questions and issues that we face, let us remember our best selves. A few reminders:

Don’t get hijacked by emotions: Emotions are an essential part of the way we experience injustice and justice – they are vital signals not to be suppressed. However, when an angry or fearful emotional brain takes over our response entirely, we make poor decisions which will almost inevitably lead us and those around us into further suffering.

Say what you see: Be honest with yourself, and others, about injustices that you witness or participate in. It is always easier to remain silent, and so allowing your voice to be heard takes enormous courage. Remember that naming and calling into question someone’s actions is different than labelling or judging their character.

Stay in dialogue: Everyone involved in a destructive incident or relationship deserves a voice: those harmed, the people responsible, and others who are affected. To avoid making assumptions about individuals’ motivations, feelings, perspectives and lived experience, we must keep the conversation alive.

Do no further harm: When the search for justice serves as a platform by which to demean or dehumanize another, we are in fact working at odds with justice. If crime and harmful actions both cause and give expression to hurt, the purpose of justice is to forge a path out of that hurt and into greater dignity, belonging and well-being for all involved.

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About the Author:

Aaron is a facilitator, trainer and mediator specializing in issues of justice and accountability. He facilitates victim-offender dialogue in serious and violent crimes, and provides training and consultation for communities and organizations across North America and internationally. Aaron holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Transformation. Since 2009 Aaron has facilitated with Fraser Region Community Justice Initiatives’ pioneering Victim Offender Mediation Program. As Training and Education Coordinator, he has trained groups across governmental and non-governmental sectors internationally. With the Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute, Aaron provides training and consultation on a variety of topics related to workplace conflict, violence and justice in Canada and the United States. Aaron completed graduate studies in Peacebuilding and Restorative Justice with Dr. Howard Zehr of the Centre for Justice and Peacebuilding. In the United States he facilitated collaborative justice processes through programs at the Prince William County Circuit Court and the District of Columbia Superior Court. In 2008 Aaron convened Youth Justice Family Group Conferences in New Zealand, widely considered the world’s first national program of restorative youth justice. Born and raised on British Columbia’s west coast, Aaron developed an early passion for human dynamics as a wilderness leadership instructor. After a year in Jerusalem during his undergraduate studies, Aaron became involved in designing and facilitating arts-based dialogue programs for Palestinian and Israeli youth with Vancouver-based Peace it Together. From 2003-2006 Aaron worked with adjudicated young men struggling with violence and substance abuse through PLEA Community Services in the Vancouver area. Aaron currently lives in Fort Langley, British Columbia, with his wife and two children. Blending keen intuition and leadership, Aaron brings creativity and new possibility to all of his work.
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