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Justice: A Definition with Action

There are two questions that come to mind when I think about “justice.” The first is “What is justice?” and the second is “What does justice require of us?” As such a loaded word, it’s likely that each of our visions of justice is most prominently shaped by who we are, where we are from and the kind of work that we do in the world. So I’d like to offer a vision of justice that I adopted a few years ago when working as a gardener around the city of Atlanta.

It was 2011 and I was touring an urban farming professional development program in Stone Mountain, GA. As we strolled through the garden, a small and unassuming sign caught my eye. It read, “Pay attention to what works in the garden, because what works in the garden may one day work in the world.” Upon seeing these words, my next thought was, “Well, what works in the garden?” As a gardener, I learned that everything begins and ends with the soil. I learned that biodiversity is essential to the thriving of an ecosystem. I learned that there are seasons for everything, and that sometimes you have to prune really, really good things in order to make room for the very best. I learned that when trees release their leaves each fall, they are coating the ground so that the soil can replenish itself. I learned that plants, animals, mushrooms and more all work together for the thriving of the whole. They serve one another. And as a gardener, I had the distinct privilege of bearing witness to and participating the miraculous unfolding of thriving life.

When I think about justice, this is what it looks and feels like. It looks like a garden. It looks like diversity. It looks like thriving, beauty, abundance and joy. It’s a lofty vision. But it is also a worthy one. When I think about justice, I imagine the establishing of societies, systems, projects and businesses that contribute to the thriving of all, not just a few.

So, what does this kind of justice require of us? What does it take to get to this place? I propose to you that justice, the kind that is made of diversity and mutual thriving, demands at least four things:

  1. Self-giving. Reordering the world will take generosity from each of us. It will take generosity with our time, with our belief in one another and with our resources. No one can decide for you how much is the right amount to give, but I do know that true justice is costly to us all.

  2. Truth telling. Justice requires that we tell the truth. We have to tell the truth about who we are and about the stories, good and bad, that shape our individual and collective identity. In grappling with the truth honestly, we find common ground and we find the gaps that require more of our attention.

  3. Patience. This work takes time, mostly because change and true maturity take time. Have you ever seen a large and fruitful pecan tree grove? Or have you ever given thought to the number of years it takes for fruits trees to bear a harvest. In our fast-paced, convenience-addicted society, we lose the art of waiting for the things we long for the most. Justice is one of those things that we have to work for and wait for over a long period of time.

  4. Hope. Plywood People believes that better is possible. We believe that the future is good. We also believe that a good future won’t just happen, but it will come by way of our thoughtfulness and choices. Problem solving takes intentionality, and our actions towards a better future are outward displays of the hope that we carry inside.

So this is one vision for justice as well as some thoughts on what it takes to build a more just world. This week during #Plywords, we invite you to engage the various visions of justice that emerge from voices in our community. And when one of the visions compels you, ask yourself, “What would this require of me?” knowing that a good future is built when we give ourselves to that work.  


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