Plato reminds us in The Republic that justice is giving people what is deserved. This can include both rewards and punishments. If Person A offers $100 to Person B for building a table, the receipt of the $100 by Person B upon the successful completion of the table is fair or just. If Person C is guilty of a traffic violation and the rules of the city require any violator of this kind to be fined $100, then it is fair or just if Person C gives up $100.
Social justice, while not always defined in the same way by all advocates of this approach, basically centers on equality of outcome. For example, suppose a pizza establishment will not deliver in a neighborhood in which there is high crime and two of their delivery people were killed trying to make deliveries there in the past year.
Because innocent people in that neighborhood are not treated the same as people in safer neighborhoods, this may be considered unjust by social justice standards. Why? It is because the innocent need an equal outcome, successful delivery of pizzas, compared to those in safer neighborhoods. That the risk for the deliverers is not deserved is not an issue here. For the classical sense of justice, what do the deliverers deserve? They deserve to be safe in terms of laws of probability for being safe. For the new social sense of justice, what do the deliverers deserve? Actually, the deliverers are not the focus now. The focus is on those who have no equality of ordering pizzas. There is a decided shift to one particular group and the emphasis on equality of outcome for them.
Now we are ready to show the difference between social justice for the imprisoned and forgiveness interventions for them. In social justice and in forgiveness, we both might focus, for example, on the childhood of Person D, who was abused by his father and now Person D has abused three children, for which he is arrested. Social justice, in focusing on his childhood, might have people see that Person D is not fully to blame for his actions, but instead his unfortunate background must mitigate the length of his sentence so that he is not unequally behind bars compared to others who were not abused and are not behind bars. The quest in this particular case is to alter the sentence and thus the time served.
For our forgiveness program, as we, too, focus on Person D’s horrendously unjust childhood, we try to help Person D, if he chooses, to forgive his father for his deep injustices. This process of forgiveness might reduce Person D’s rage and thus reduce his motivation to hurt others in the future. We do not suggest that justice now be altered. We focus on inner healing and not on altering the time he is to serve in prison. Justice in its classical sense is served in the forgiveness programs, while that classical sense of justice is not served when social justice is considered, at least in the example given here.
There is a substantial difference between forgiveness as a rehabilitation strategy for those in prison and the call to alter the sentence in social justice. If there is a call to reduce sentences without the concomitant attempt to eliminate rage, one has to wonder how just this solution is. Perhaps it is time to fold forgiveness interventions into the quest for social justice so that these work together. When a reduced sentence is going to occur, then it seems wise that the rage within first is reduced.
Would you please explain what you mean by “wishing the person well” in the context of forgiving someone?
When you “wish the other well” you are not necessarily planning to go to the person and proclaim that you have forgiven (at least not yet). You are not necessarily planning (at least for now) to reconcile with the person. Instead, you are engaging in a cognitive exercise in which you hope that the one who hurt you does well in life, even if that person is doing well in life without a relationship with you. For example, you want the person to have a good job. You hope the person has good health. The point is this: Your thoughts about the person are not condemning ones but instead are positive thoughts for the person’s well-being.
Learn more at How to Forgive.
I kind of feel that if I am forgiven, then what I did will be long forgotten. At this point, I am afraid of that because, if I am forgiven and all is forgotten, I might commit the offense again. Any suggestions?
It sounds to me that even if others forget what you did, you are not going to forget. So, others’ views will not change yours. May I suggest a balance here. I know you do not want to forget what you did so that you do not engage in that behavior again. At the same time, you might consider forgiving yourself if you are clinging to the memory of what you did and thus continue to condemn yourself for this. If you forgive yourself, you still are not likely to forget, but instead to remember in new ways. In other words, when you look back on the situation, you will not condemn yourself and feel excessively guilty as you recall what you did. Your worry that you will completely forget will not materialize because, when you forgive yourself, you tend to remember in new ways rather than literally blotting out the transgression from memory.
This will depend on whether or not the other who has hurt you shows what I call in my book, The Forgiving Life, the “three R’s.” Does this person show remorse (or inner sorrow), repentance (coming to you with a sincere apology), and recompense (trying to make it right, within reason)? If the three R’s are in place, then you can begin to try to re-establish trust, which can be earned one small step at a time. See if the person can handle the particular kind of responsibility that did not materialize in the past. If, in the small steps, the person shows a good will and sound behavior, then you might trust in more substantial ways. If the person cannot handle finances, but you give the person now a small responsibility with finances and this is handled well, you might consider a little more financial responsibility, and then a little more. Trust needs to be earned and is often built up slowly.
For additional information, see The Forgiving Life.
I am growing impatient. I have asked my partner for forgiveness and it is not forthcoming. I have been waiting for weeks. Do you have some advice for me?
The advice I can give at this point is patience. Forgiving is the other person’s decision and that person may need more time. Also, the person may not be convinced of your apology. Have you done what you can to make up for the injustice? This may help lower the other’s anger and lead to forgiveness for you.
For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.