A few colleagues and I were discussing injustice recently. We were wondering if “Response to injustice” should be added to the list of treatable diagnoses given the frequency of injustices in the world and how often this is the reason someone comes to counseling.
Injustice can be horribly disturbing to our emotional and spiritual well being. It makes people feel low self worth, alone, vulnerable and many times incredibly angry. For example, in Rochester, much of the violence on our city streets can be traced to the rage from social and economic injustices and institutionalized racism.
What is often frustrating is the lack of acknowledgment. People don’t know what to say, so often say nothing. The perpetrator of the injustice hardly ever apologizes for it and often is not held accountable. When they get away with it, it increases the frustration. It also can be frustrating when there is no known perpetrator, like when a child dies in an accident. There is no one to blame. In these cases the ‘victim’ is left to sort their feelings without justice being done. This sometimes leads people to take justice into their own hands and act out towards others but, more often, towards themselves.
Much of the upset in life, perhaps even ‘most’ of it comes from our perception and judgment that something is unfair. Of course this happens daily to different degrees with injustices all over the spectrum: From gross injustice, like genocide to barely unjust, like my daughter having to do a chore when my son has been excused of his. And then some in the middle, like being taken to the bank by one’s ex during a divorce. However, most of our daily upsets are relatively small unfairnesses. Without fear that the Gestapo will knock on our door next, we have the luxury to sweat the small stuff: For example, when we are just about to sit down for a ‘well-deserved’ break, our dog does diarrhea all over the kitchen.
We have been told “Life is unfair” since we were little. This totally appears true and I say it to my children often enough to know I buy in. However, this gives meaning to how we feel about life. We can enter a victim mentality and through this story see more evidence of how we’ve gotten the raw end of the stick. And then we make negative identity conclusions on the account of this thinking: I am a loser. But, staying in this way of thinking makes us feel worse. And what is worse than feeling worse is that we respond from these feelings, perhaps putting more negativity out there. Plus staying angry gives the people who hurt us continued power over us. Do we really want to give them that power?
Seeing the Divinity
But what if we saw it differently? What if this unfair part is just a slice of the big picture? It is a small view of a set period on a much larger timeline. Imagine the timeline being the timeline of the whole universe (all the lives you’ve lived and afterlives). Justice only happens in the bigger picture. What if we expected injustice in the small slice, yet knew there was absolute justice in the whole? Would we tolerate it better? I know I would.
How do we see this large view to help us through our current problem? We ask to see it. We step back and try to see what else there is to see. If Anne Frank can still see the sky from the little window in the annex despite what she was going through and see God in that sky, I feel like I can put up with anything. We can even see the Divine in the dog’s diarrhea.
ANNE: Look, Peter, the sky. (She looks up through skylight.) What a lovely, lovely day!
Aren’t the clouds beautiful? You know what I do when it seems as if I couldn’t stand being cooped up for one more minute? I think myself out. I think myself on a walk in the park where I used to go with Pim. Where the jonquils and the crocus and the violets grow down the slopes. Do you know the most wonderful thing about thinking yourself out? You can have it any way you like. You can have roses and violets and chrysanthemums all blooming at the same time … it’s funny … I used to take it all for granted … and now
I’ve gone crazy about everything to do with nature. Haven’t you?