In my continuing quest to prove that I do in fact make myself do the same activities I thrust upon my composition students, I share with you my “This I Believe” essay. I make my freshman comp students write this essay every semester. This one is mine; well, one of mine. Maybe I’ll post others later.
Here’s the rules from NPR for those interested.
And, here’s my essay.
Am I Just?
I believe in justice. I don’t mean this in the legal sense, wherein the justice we claim to seek is too often conflated with revenge. In fact, I believe that justice and revenge have nothing to do with each other. Rather, I take my meaning from Coetzee’s question in Waiting for the Barbarians: “Justice: once that word is uttered, where will it all end? Easier to shout No! Easier to be beaten and made a martyr” (2843). His point is simple: the martyr doesn’t have to live with the changes he or she dies for; a just man must live with whatever ends come—and then keep working toward justice, which is less and endpoint than
a continuum a journey.
A friend and minister once suggested that Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” was, in the end, about the cause of justice. Love your neighbor as yourself. We are all equal in the eyes of God. Judge not lest you be judged. He continued the discussion by asking of Adolf Hitler; how do we “judge him not?” How do I view a reviled historical figure with compassion? Justice and compassion come hand in hand and have little to do with forgiveness or revenge. I can have compassion by recognizing anyone’s humanity and not, say, reducing Hitler to a mere monster (who is therefore not like us). Like The Blob or Freddy Krueger, Hitler is frightening, but most of us readily identify him as something abnormal—not like us. Hitler is too easy to dismiss.
What about ourselves?
I know oppression when it happens to me, and I rise against it, but, as Craig O’Hara suggests in his Philosophy of Punk, “people have too often woken up to their own suffering while still remaining ignorant to the suffering of others” (23). When faced with another’s oppression what do I do? Do I rise up on their behalf, even if it threatens my own comfort? Do I fight with an eye toward choosing to live with the changes the struggles bring, or do I act in half-measures (which are never enough)? The just person must recognize his or her own humanity and be willing not only to fight for that of others but take the responsibility of living with the changes that necessarily come alongside justice.
I believe that working for legal, social, racial, religious, marital, and class (to name a few)equality acts in support of justice. I believe that justice must be the frame of the world, and that it exists in selflessness; I am not just if I think only of my self, my happiness, my pain, and my current beliefs. Whose rights I am defending is not mine to judge. What is “just” is not, then, a question of what I stand to gain or protect by defending those who cannot or will not defend themselves or joining in the defense of those who are, but what does humanity stand to lose if I do not?
Coetzee, J.M. Waiting for the Barbarians. Norton Anthology of English Literature.
O’Hara, Craig. The Philosophy of Punk. San Francisco, AK Press, 1999.