An Educated Approach to Justice
Too often we talk of “justice” as something separate from ourselves. Typically, should conflict arise, the response is to turn to some formal body distinct from us: police, community groups or the courts. Even when we talk of reform, it is of changing how the system operates, or of instituting alternative projects. While this can produce positive outcomes, there are often associated negatives. Ultimately too, it serves to perpetuate the idea that harm-reduction, healing and conciliation is something that others do for us.
I would argue that it would be much healthier for us as a society if justice was an inherent part of all our social lives; that is, something we do and re-do in our day-to-day interactions with each other. When those around us are upset, our first instinct isn’t to “refer them on”, but to offer care and comfort there and then. Why does justice need to be any different? If equipped with the correct tools, the appropriate knowledge and the cultural instincts to act in this way, many harmful events could be resolved earlier or even addressed in advance.
In order to construct such a new way of life, three important skills would need to be nurtured, communication, conflict resolution and physical self-defence.
Good communication skills are empowering. They allow people to assert themselves in a healthy way. Frequently, harm results from people lashing out, being unable to properly express themselves, or feeling they aren’t being heard. Equipping people with the communicative dexterity to both convey how they feel, as well as to properly listen to others, is the first step to reducing harmful interactions.
Conflict-resolution skills would then build on good communication and prepare everyone for de-escalation and healthy dialogue. The ability to use discussion to create satisfactory ways forward would open up new methods for reducing harm. It would also work to restore relationships, and transform, not only people but, our collective understanding and the world around us. Physical self-defence skills are perhaps an area with potential to be somewhat controversial.
Despite this I believe they can have a positive impact on us all. Often people will seek to dominate a discussion or impose their will through the use or threat of force. In these circumstances communication and conflict-resolution may prove less effective, particularly if those involved feel physically intimidated or otherwise unable to assert themselves effectively. This is where self-defence skills could help.
Firstly, most established self-defence systems or martial arts are imbued with a philosophy that encourages a community spirit alongside non-aggression and self restraint. Widespread adoption of these would allow people to internalise positive values around the use of force and become less likely to bully or intimidate.
Secondly, people with fluency in this area could be confident in their abilities and less likely to feel threatened our brow-beaten. This they would be more willing to introduce their ideas around conflict-resolution in an effective way.
Finally, the presence of physical self-defence skills in the general population would increase the effort-cost to those seeking to dominate. This in itself may serve to act as a deterrent.
When assessing the success of our education system, we generally look to measures of literacy, numeracy and technology skills, along with a host of subjects linked to economic activity. But important social skills, such as those described above are overlooked. The result is a heavy price that society ends up paying.
To create a more truly just society, tinkering with the current system will not be enough. A radical new approach, one that significantly changes our view of what justice is and what it can be is needed. Equipping everyone with the capacity to communicate effectively, resolve conflict and defend themselves without the use of weapons, would be a step towards that goal.
John Paul Wootton
Article first appeared in Quakers In Criminal Justice