User voted Usually it's better to fight for the justice.
2 votes
Aug 4, 2016

I said that it's usually better to fight for justice. But there's a very important proviso here.

"Fighting for justice" doesn't mean lashing out. It doesn't mean retribution. It wouldn't mean, say, lighting a flaming sack of animal feces on someone's doorstep.

When we try to convince ourselves that it's a person, not a problem, that we should stop or deal with, we almost always find ourselves reducing our humanity and causing injustices ourselves.

Speaking our mind, protesting, using resources like Yelp or a blog, calling the person's boss and explaining the situation reasonably but stridently... there's an array of ways that we can deal with an injustice in a way that doesn't escalate to unnecessary and unjustified violence, doesn't impede others, and doesn't unfairly demonize an individual.

Imagine if someone served you poorly at a restaurant. You usually have no problems there, but one time they were brusque and short with you. If you go to their manager, they may be fired. What if that was their one bad day? Do they deserve to have to spend months to find a new job because of your complaint? How awful would you feel if you knew that they struggled to make rent because you felt incensed at a momentary mistreatment?

Imagine instead that you confronted the person and asked them why they did that. You might be able to get them to stop, explain their situation, and commit to not doing that again in the future. The outcome you wanted, that neither you nor anyone else would experience that behavior from this person, would be far more likely to be achieved.

And in that case, if the employee was still rude, you still could go to the manager. All too often, we turn to threats or poor behavior far before all other options have been exhausted. It leads us to embarrass ourselves, harm others and make our objectives less likely to be achieved.

Let me tell a personal story to indicate how hard it can be to achieve justice.

One time, I moved out of an apartment. There had been interpersonal conflicts, but I didn't feel any real ill will to anyone there. Suddenly, a few months later, I get a text from a number I don't recognize calling me a thief. I'm confused. What the hell is going on? Is this a practical joke? I ask what's happening. The person on the other end explains that I supposedly took some pots and pans and similar items when I left the apartment.

I was mortified! I apologized profusely and said that I'd return everything as soon as I could.

The other guy wasn't having it. He threatened to call the cops.

At that point, I was done. I was still going to return anything if I wasn't fairly sure it was mine, but I wasn't going to pay him back for anything from the fridge he alleged I took. I told him that he didn't have receipts for that property and no police officer was going to do anything but tell us to work it out because the items in question would be a few hundred dollars of value at most.

It turns out that I had missed a previous text from him. That is why he was angry.

Even if he seriously believed that it was more likely that I had just deliberately stolen the items and ignored him, rather than not having seen the texts or seen them but forgotten to get back to him because I thought the items had been stolen, he gained nothing from confronting me and in fact made it less likely that I would comply. His empty threat felt petty and made me want to fight him. And, since I actually had to go back to the new apartment I was living in (since I was in the process of moving out of that apartment too), I felt no special need to get him back his property in an expedient manner. I told him I'd return his property on my timetable, not his.

He instead should have asked if I had received the texts. If I said no, he could have put aside his skepticism, knowing that it gained him nothing, and merely listed the items in question. At that point, I, mortified, would have asked him to describe every item in as much detail as I could, and checked to make sure that no one else was reporting anything missing.

This man had felt an injustice had been done by someone he was already angry at. His behavior didn't deter me in the future from anything. It didn't make me more afraid of him. It made me angry. It made me not want to give him his possessions in order to discourage such negative behavior. It certainly delayed the likelihood of him getting back his items, and I wrote a letter at the same time.

Now, I'd like to think I'm a decent person, and I'd like to think he wasn't a bad guy either. But our behaviors both produced the worst outcomes from each other. That's what happens when we proceed with no skill or tact or grace or tactics: we do far more harm and actually can entrench the feeling someone has that leads them to justify bad behavior.

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