I grew up with the phrase, Life’s Not Fair. Usually it was used to stop whining between siblings but it seems to have taken on a whole new global meaning. Life’s not fair means we can write off systemic injustice, using the rational that life was never meant to be fair, so why even try?
When I was getting master’s degree in Urban Education, most of my classes were on the discrepancies of education between neighborhoods in our city. Wealthier neighborhoods had better public schools; poorer neighborhoods had gaps in funding and resources.
We often looked at this graphic of Equality and Justice: Three children of varying heights are standing on three boxes of the same height, looking over a fence. The tallest child can easily see the baseball game on the other side; the middle child can just see over the fence; and the smallest child, even when boosted, still cannot see over the fence. Justice shows the tallest child standing on the ground, still watching the game over the fence. The middle child is standing on one box, and the smallest child is boosted up on two boxes and now enjoying the game.
This is a great start in understanding the difference between justice and equality. But it’s still imperfect. After I got my degree, the much-used graphic became imperfect (or perhaps it was always imperfect?) and a new one was created. The first two images are the same but a third scenario is added, this time the fence is chainlink and no one needs a box to stand on because they can all easily see through the fence.
(I suppose this one is imperfect, too. Why do we need a fence at all? If this is an image of life, why do we have those who are not at the field? I guess that’s a different conversation wth a lot of nuances and economics to consider.)
For now, I’m thinking of the Pledge of Allegiance that we teach to our children: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Liberty and Justice for all. We teach our schoolchildren these words. We demand respect while saying them, facing the flag, hands on hearts. But our daily practice doesn’t always amount to justice for all. We don’t like the idea of giving someone else our box to stand on, even if we don’t need it ourselves. We don’t like having people watch through the fence when we’ve paid good money for our seats.
The thing is, I’m still sitting in a pretty great seat, right on the third base line. I’m still enjoying the game with an incredible, closeup view. Is it fair that others are watching through a chainlink fence while I’ve paid a lot of money for my tickets? No. But is it changing my experience? It’s not. I still haven’t given up my seat to those watching through the fence.
In a redeemed world, I think we’d all be sitting at the best seats. But for now, let’s remember our own spot in the stands and allow others to watch the game, too.
Where do you sit on the field? What’s your view of the word justice in the Pledge of Allegiance?
This post is Day 11 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.