Compassion and Justice

In spiritual maturity, the opposite of injustice is not justice, but compassion. Not me against you, not me straightening out the present ill, fighting to gain a just result for myself and others, but compassion, a life that goes against nothing and fulfills everything. —Charlotte Joko Beck

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. . . .  Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. –-Martin Luther King Junior

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men, doesn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. For every force there is a counterforce. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.  –Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind…. If blood be shed, let it be our blood. Cultivate the quiet courage of dying without killing. For man lives freely only by his readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him. –-Mahatma Gandhi

Mercy and compassion are attainable ideals. Justice is not. There are too many problematic issues in seeking justice, because justice always involves human interaction. There’s no one who can accurately determine what is fair and what is not, because in any interaction there seem to be a hundred different ways to tally up what we’ve given and taken in time, money, and opportunity to and from each other. To what extent should one be held accountable for what was done unintentionally or intentionally under duress? To what extent should one be held accountable for an unanticipated outcome or the actions of a group to which one belongs? In the end, we cannot define insanity or know what it is to be in another’s head. In the end, we cannot assign responsibility to another for our grief or any other state of mind, to say that they must make reparations because of what we chose to allow ourselves to dwell on.

Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” Thus Christians like to say they “evaluate” rather than judge. They like to use the term “tough love” when their stance leans more toward justice than mercy. If compassion and kindness are reserved for those who “deserve it,” then it is justice, not mercy. It is the Mosaic law of an eye for an eye, not the teaching of Jesus to turn the other cheek. It seems his point was that we don’t have much to gain from fighting. In most cases, the greater good would be served by giving up a claim on justice.

While justice is endlessly complex and incalculable, the attainable ideal of compassion is simple, and the key to its practice is stated in each of the major philosophical or religious systems: do to others what you would want done to you.

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