Monday, January 21, 2013

Justice and Compassion

Yesterday was World Religion Day, and here in Victoria, we hosted a celebration at the University of Victoria. It was truly amazing.

We had 2 panels of 4 speakers, representing 8 different faith backgrounds. the first panel of four discussed the question "How do we balance compassion and justice, based on the teachings and spiritual principles of our respective faiths?"  The representatives for that question were Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and Aboriginal. The second question was "What does a compassionate world and compassionate community look like, especially when dealing with those who hold a different world view?" This was responded to by a Baha'i, a Jew, a Hindu and a Sikh.

Before this, though, I had been asked to give a 5-minute intro to the topic for the day.

5 minutes.

How can you introduce so much in so short a time? Well, that was the challenge, wasn't it?

Here is the short talk I prepared. I hope you enjoy it.


When we think of justice, some think of distributive justice, which is the proper allocation of things amongst a group of people. Others think of punishment, such as is found within the justice system. Today I think we are talking about a balancing, which is upheld by the combination of both reward and retribution. And this, of course, has to be tempered with wisdom, which is illumined by compassion. I could talk more about this, but you will surely hear about it from the panelists.

Instead, I'd like you to think about a fetus in the womb. Early on, when it's just a small group of identical cells, a very interesting thing occurs. At some point, when it's floating around in there, it bumps into the uterine wall. Now admittedly, that's not very interesting, but those cells the suffer under the impact begin to change. They could, in a sense, complain and whine, or even die off from this impact, but no. They rise to the challenge. They grow and develop into something that we could never have predicted ahead of time.They become the brain and spinal cord of the infant. It is because of that very impact that the most physically important part of our body emerges, the central nervous system.

Now, if we look at that infant a few years later, so self-absorbed, aware only of its own needs, there comes a point when it begins interacting with others similar in age and development. It wants a particular toy, perhaps crying and screaming when they don't get it. But, through this social... impact... and with the loving guidance of the parents and the community, she learns to share. She begins to develop those most important qualities of generosity, and yes, compassion.

Today we see a lot of images on the internet, in the media, showing the earth as a baby. I think this is true, in a sense.

We have mapped out the planet.. well, almost, in the case of AppleMaps. The nations have developed. Boundaries are, for the most part, set. And we are bumping into each other. Our challenge in these encounters is to grow into a new dynamic of interaction, in which compassion dominates the scene, overshadowing the past pains of aggression.

Like that child who is just beginning to play with others, we, too, need to learn to grow in relation to those other cultures around us.

It is through our clumsy interaction with others that we find we develop those most essential traits of our character. We learn to share, developing our sense of generosity and compassion. We learn to apologize for our mistakes, developing our sense of humility. It is at those most painfully awkward times that we learn to stand up for both ourselves and others, cultivating our sense of courage, assertiveness, courtesy, and other virtues so important in our life.

When we face this struggle, and cling to the principle of compassion, we will discover that we are, somehow, creating that central nervous system which will become the most pivotal component in the world that is currently being born.

1 comment:

  1. wonderful introduction - thanks for posting and good to have you back after 2 weeks of abstinence ;)