…And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it…
This is one of the requests made by the version of the Druid’s Prayer with which I am most familiar. (Academic side-note: yes, Iolo wrote it, almost certainly invented it entirely. No, that doesn’t bother me in day-to-day use unless someone tries to claim that it has another source.)
‘Justice’ can be a very heavy-handed word. People sometimes use it when they seem to be asking, in fact, for revenge; I have heard it used to support the death penalty and long, harsh prison sentences with no redemptive value. It can also be ironic; consider the term ‘poetic justice’.
When I hear this prayer, though, I usually think of social justice – not an uncontested term, as wikipedia will inform you, but I think a useful one. To me, ‘social justice’ is an umbrella term which enables us to talk about ways in which so many forms of oppression – linked to poverty, sexuality, gender, skin colour, religious and cultural differences, ability, and so forth – are not just about individual prejudice, but about systemic and structural issues. Justice (equality, fairness) must be a social endeavour, based on valuing all people.
This doesn’t mean that our individual actions don’t count. We still need to consider carefully our own behaviour. It does mean that when those things don’t seem to make enough difference, when we notice that our efforts are just a drop in a rather full ocean, it might not just be that we are doing it wrong or not trying hard enough, but rather that we are up against something so much bigger.
The good news is that a society is made up entirely of individuals. (Bonus Buddhist points if you thought I was going to say that it is made up of non-society elements – also true!) It can be changed a little bit at a time – and I want to finish with a quotation which is now traditional in this context. As Gandhi may or may not have said:
Be the change you want to see in the world.