I grew up with fairness.
Cookies – food in general – had to be divvied up evenly. Everybody had to play by the rules. Presents were weighed according to how many and how much they cost. Even time was allotted so we all got our share.
But I knew “things” were not fair. My sister was prettier. My mother liked my brothers more. School was easier for me than for any of them. And so it went.
Nevertheless, I passed the fairness doctrine on to my daughters. Doug and I strove to be fair to them, even though as we looked at the world we saw that somehow “things” are not fair. For example, by cultural standards Doug and I didn’t have much, but we had way too much compared to what the planet could support for everybody. And while hurricanes flooded parts of the country, we needed rain. Millions of people in our lifetime were being killed in wars, but not here.
Even so, we tried to be fair.
I think it still may be a default practice for me, even though in my quest to make sense of my life I came to understand that fairness is not of God, and that only in the last century have Western thinkers come to equate justice, particularly social justice, with fairness.
Recently, people in the Garage have talked about local groups working on social justice issues – housing, public transportation, immigration. So I looked up some stuff, and concluded that many of us seem to believe that what works for the privileged few should prevail for all. We should all have adequate health care. Everybody should have free access to clean air and water. Everyone should have an equal opportunity for an education.
Notice the word should in that paragraph. Should implies that if something is or is not happening, we are obligated to fix it. It is only fair. So we organize, we talk, we write, we protest, we pray about the issues. And that’s alright, but associating fairness, freedom and equality with justice doesn’t work. It sure doesn’t in nature: the earth’s resources are not distributed evenly; the rainforest is not equal to the desert; a worm is not free to fly.
Maybe freedom and equality, like fairness, are simply human constructs to make our bumbling about in the world workable for us. Justice is not a human construct. We can’t, or at least I can’t, know what is just. We don’t have a criminal justice system; we have a legal system. So for me, “social justice” makes a big too doo about a simple concept. The big issues are BIG. We can organize, and talk, and pray, and write, and protest about them, or we can look at a situation right in front of us and figure out what we can and are willing to do about that.
Right here, right now, DES, where poor people go to sign up for food stamps and AHCCCS, has moved to the far side of Prescott Valley, even though most of the clients live in Prescott and have no transportation. And men and women who are released from the county jail in Camp Verde have no way to get back to Prescott. What can you do to help? You could work and work and work to get public transportation to happen in the quad cities sometime (People have for as long as I can remember.) or you can offer to give an individual a ride.
In one of our early epistles, Doug wrote about the Prescott police officers who got into trouble for destroying and urinating on the camps of homeless people: We can hope that better training and healthier attitudes will decrease police harassment of homeless persons, but we must remember that our social ills are only symptoms of what is in our own hearts. We have to start cleaning on the inside and work our way out.
It isn’t fair that we each have to do all that work, but it probably is just.
– Kris Finn