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4/26/2007
If Justice Is Blind, She's Also Deaf & Dumb
A few weeks ago, an interview question from Mary-Lue, to Julie at the Raven Picture Maven brought up a great topic of discussion. After all of the insightful comments, Julie decided to pose the question to the blogosphere as a whole: Which is of greater necessity - justice or forgiveness? The Justice and Forgiveness Roundtable discussion was the result. I was moved by all of the posts in response. In fact, I haven't been able to stop thinking about the question. So, when Julie posed a follow on question, I had to participate. I was, frankly, completely intimidated by the posts I read last week and I am NOT easily initimdated. But I'd still like to offer my views on the subject. This week the questions are about choice:

I think we need to next talk about choice. You asked earlier which we would choose. But deeper, right, is how and why we choose.
And what choice really means. Do we all have the same ability to choose? Is it really a present tense concept?
How do we choose anything (forgiveness, justice, compassion)if we don't know why or how choice is really made?


I'm sure I've overlapped the questions a bit, but I'm sure you will all forgive me. I'm also a bit late, but I hope I don't need to remind you that real moms procrastinate!
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I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.
- Abraham Lincoln

Justice.

When I think of justice, I think of the rule of law. I'm a lawyer, how could I not? But justice is not necessarily something we choose, and when we do choose justice, justice is not necessarily served.

When I think of justice, my mind does not jump first to my more recent legal practice, but to the victims of domestic and sexual violence that I counseled during and after college as a volunteer for the YWCA. I spoke with hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women anonymously over the phone. Some were truly looking for a way out and a way forward, many weren't ready for that yet and just wanted someone to listen. As heartbreaking as those many anonymous callers were, those that I met in person still haunt me. As an advocate, I met victims in the emergency room after physical and sexual assaults. I gave them their options for restraining orders, prosecution, housing and counseling, and I listened. I hugged some of them as they cried. I watched them as they stared blankly into space. I held their hands through medical exams.

Lady Justice is pictorially represented in nearly every courtroom in the United States. She carries a balanced scale in one hand, a sword in the other, and wears a blindfold. Lady Justice is intended to represent the fair and equal administration of the law, without corruption, avarice, prejudice, or favor. But justice is not truly blind. I think most reasonable people can agree simply by looking at the prison population and sentencing statistics in the U.S., that justice sees race, income, social status, and gender far too clearly. There is often no fair and equal administration of justice for perpetrators of crimes.

Back to the victims. Some of the victims I met chose justice. Police were called, restraining orders were issued, arrests were made. And then the blind Lady Justice took over, in the form of brutal interviews, painful cross-examinations, and, usually, a plea bargain and a slap on the wrist. There is often no justice for victims of crime, even with a full sentence.

How about murder? Is putting a killer to death justice? Some would say yes, but can it ever really make the scales balance again? No. No, it can't.

I can see both sides of the scale.

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
- Mahatma Ghandi

Forgiveness.

I have less to say about forgiveness, but that doesn't make it less important or necessary. Forgiveness is something we must consciously choose. And it's not easy. I can't help but think of all of the victims in the Virginia Tech shootings last week. How will their families forgive? I have difficult forgiving the guy who cuts me off in traffic or my husband for hogging the bed, how on earth could I ever forgive a crime so horrible? I don't know. But I sense that the only true way to internal balance and calm is forgiveness.

Choice.

But I still haven't really addressed Julie's questions above regarding how and why we choose and if we all have the same ability to do so. I "choose" to see this question less in terms of free will and more in terms of class, culture, and society. How and why we choose to forgive or to seek justice I believe is largely a product of our upbringing and our experiences.

Some people see justice and the law in terms of black and white. If it's wrong, it must be punished without consideration of mercy or extenuating circumstances. But people who render judgment in such a stark manner cannot see themselves as wrongdoers, feeling safe and secure in their world view by happy accident of birth. They see the world as Us and Them. From my vantage point, people who can't see shades of grey are broken in some way. They can't see themselves choosing the wrong path. They lack the ability to show mercy, or are perhaps too angry to care.

These people will never choose to forgive and may in fact state that they choose not to forgive. But the truth may be that they cannot, because of who they are, ever choose forgiveness.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Gwen said...

Weird. For the longest time, I couldn't post a comment and then, viola! this box appears randomly.

Reading this post made me feel like I r a dum, b/c I seemed to have missed the point all together in my own writing: why do people choose justice or forgiveness?

And I think your answer about justice is interesting. It makes me think about Ted Haggard, the homosexually inclinated head of the Evangelical church group who campaigned so hard against gay marriage. I wonder if sometimes the reason we demand justice so loudly is because punishing others helps us hide our own flaws a little better.

Blogger Julie Pippert said...

I've waxed on at length in my own space about how forgiveness isn't a grant one issues as if one is the Pope handing out pardons. But I do think that way of thinking of it is key to how people who have been assaulted or the VA Tech victims families forgive. There is NOTHING to make what happened okay, and NOTHING that provides reparation. But there is something that can mean you don't let it rule you and you go on anyway or because. Forgiveness.

Your take on justice is intersting and I was eager to read it because of your legal expertise. I knew you'd have a good take on it. Like the quote too.

100% think your choice explanation is true.

Blogger slouching mom said...

Thanks for writing this. I appreciate your lawyerly spin on these issues.

Blogger CPA Mom said...

Forgiveness for me is hard because I have difficulty separating forgiving from forgetting. Can you say, "I forgive you" when you cannot forget the wrong? Can you have true forgiveness without forgetting? I don't think so. Especially when I have such a hard view of the justice portion. When someone has hurt me, wronged me or my loved ones, I want to see them suffer in return. I describe myself as an Old Testament, eye for an eye person. That New Testament forgiveness - it's hard for me to swallow.

Great post!

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Gwen - I'm thinking Blogger issues b/c I couldn't even get to my blog this morning. I think the great thing about the Roundtable is everyone's different, not-so-literal takes on the questions.

Julie - Yes, I think that if you can't forgive and move past a catastrophic act like that, it starts to become the defining moment of your life. Who you are could easily become wrapped up in such a tragedy. Of course, it's easy for me to say b/c I've never been in the situation.

SM - Thanks.

CPA Mom - I don't think you have to forget to forgive, but you do have to let it go in a way. It's easier said than done, I know.

Blogger jen said...

what a great post, friend. i wholly appreciate your take on justice, it's application different than the angle i was approaching it.

how terrific would it be to sit around in person and debate these things?

Blogger PunditMom said...

This is a wonderful and thoughtful post. I'm in the same boat as CPA Mom -- how can I forgive if I can't forget? As for justice, you are so right -- I wish it was truly blind, but I'm realistic enough to know it isn't.

Blogger Gunfighter said...

I think it is important to seperate legal justice and what is truly Just.

The two aren't always the same.

Blogger ExPatSW said...

For the greater part of my life I was a total believer in the rightness of justice. After all, the definition is 'the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness'. However, I have come to realise that justice is rarely just, righteous or equitable.

Forgiveness was much more difficult for me. After all, aren't some things truly unforgivable? If someone causes me or my loved ones grievous harm do they deserve forgiveness? Then I saw what lack of forgiveness did to people...the way they become twisted and bitter and unable to trust. So, the lesson for me was that forgiveness wasn't for the person who harmed me, it was for me...forgiveness is the first step to journeying through the pain and coming out the other side.

Forgiveness is healing. Someone caused me tremendous harm earlier in my life. I spent a lot of years being angry and bitter. I have since forgiven that person. I haven't forgotten the harm they did me but I have forgiven them. And, I am a happier, healthier person because of it.

Just my take on things...

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