This week’s virtue is timely given that in just a couple of days, the individuals who have been camped out at Wascana Park will be meeting with representatives of the Provincial Government. For those of you who may not know, they individuals began camping here after the Gerald Stanley trial came back with a verdict of “not guilty”. This is a complex issue that would take pages to really explain, so I urge you begin your reading here. I also urge you to continue to search and read articles on the case, the verdict, and the implications. On July 1, they will be holding a consultation to allow the community to provide them with issues to take to the table–while on the other hand, the government has asked at least three times for the police to remove the camp.
The police have refused.
I was approached on Facebook by someone who wanted to have a discussion about Gender and Sexually Diverse Rights and the struggle. I was so wrapped up in the camp that I didn’t realize this was his initial reason for starting the conversation with me. My bad.
This individual claimed to be in Christian ministry, and I can only assume that if they were, given the tone of their demeanor they were a member of a fundamentalist denomination. Not judging, just making an assumption. In his words, “Justice is consequence for action.”
While I may agree that this definition might be a part of what justice is, I can’t help but think that justice itself is far more reaching than just consequences for action.
His argument was that the law says that you can’t camp in the park. And while it may be uncomfortable, everyone has to follow the law.
But what is law, what is justice, if those consequences aren’t balanced with compassion?
The general energy of the comments I’ve been witnessing have been that we all have to be treated equally, and that means everyone has to act according to the law regardless of why and what they are doing. But where do we acquire this idea of equality? What is the bench mark for equality? Equal from an Anglo-Saxon perspective? For someone who may have grown up in adverse poverty, addiction, violence, depression, this isn’t equal. This is a bar that is so high that they have to reach twice as far as someone who hasn’t experienced these issues.
Is justice fair if it’s based on a sense of equality that requires individuals to reach twice as far from where they have begun to be considered on the same level playing field as those of us who haven’t had to experience these issues?
The individual I mentioned earlier in this post said also that they abhorred using labels. And while I find that this sentiment may be rooted in the right ideas, again I have to say: if we remove labels, and identities, what is the general identity we’re attempting to achieve, and what happens when that identity (and I’m going to assume that general identity is one that comes from the safety of privilege) again requires individuals to work twice as hard for what I have?
I had to work 70 hour weeks at one point in my working career. Not just for one week, but for a few years. I understand what it means when people postulate “hard work to get ahead”. What I have now is because of that, and in the scheme of things it’s not a lot. When I consider how much more difficult that would’ve been had I not been a white male…. And that bothers a lot of us. And that makes a lot of us white males feel marginalized, and isolated, and discriminated against.
The key to justice with compassion begins right there. It begins with recognizing that feeling of being discriminated against is something we can use empathetically. We need to multiply that feeling ten fold to get just a taste of what it’s like to be someone who lives with discrimination and marginalization and the yoke of “if you work hard enough you can achieve anything (you just have to work five times as hard)” feels on a daily basis. It’s from that position that we have to use that feeling of being discriminated against not to be victims, but to help empower all people, to lower the line not because we need to give people hand outs and something for nothing, but because the comfort of where we exist comes at the price of other people being held in their suffering.
If the money that was used to purchase a pipeline recently had instead been used to renew or replace infrastructure and create healthy, clean drinking water on First Nations across the country, how much further would we be in terms of truth and reconciliation?
I know this makes a lot of people angry, and I understand where that anger comes from. It’s from the place where I suspect most of us realize that when we hear someone say “welfare is a free hand out for someone who doesn’t want to work for a living, it’s a leech on our tax dollars”, our anger helps to cover the reality that most of the people who are on welfare have a bellow average if not sub-standard quality of life, a quality of life which our society not only has a hand in creating, but sustaining.
I’ve challenged the people I’ve heard speaking out against the camp to actually go down and listen to what the people there have to say. Most of them hide behind the law argument.
As I’ve come to learn and to understand: privilege requires no courage.
When justice under the law is based on an principle of equality that is measured by an impossible standard to achieve by all people, there is justice for no one.
“Let whoever has received the power of judging others pass judgment with mercy, as they should wish to receive mercy from the Lord. For judgment will be without mercy for those who have not shown mercy.” -St. Francis of Assisi, “Second Version of the Letter to the Faithful”
*This is part of a series of a year long journey through the book, “Franciscan Virtues Through the Year“. If you’d like more information on Old/Independent Catholicism, or would like more information on my denomination, or feel called to a vocation, click here!