“Justice” may be one of the trickier concepts in our Code of Chivalry. Not only do people not agree on how it should be defined- Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary contains 8 related but not identical definitions for the word- but how justice is to be applied differes widely. Robert Heinlein discussed in The Number of the Beast a society that took quite literally the justice concept of “an eye for an eye.” Most people in industrialized nations think that a trifle excessive, especially if it’s going to be applied to them.
However, a quote from our Arming ceremony gives us some guidance regarding what “justice” means in the context of the Code of Chivalry. “Injustice is what gives you the right to mete justice.” This suggests that it is injustice to which we respond as Knights, and that we may derive our definition of justice from the converse of “injustice.” Returning to Merriam-Webster, we find that the definition for “injustice” is “unfair treatment: a situation in which the rights of a person or a group of people are ignored.”
It seems to follow, therefore, that fair treatment and the observance of the rights of individuals or groups are recognized and considered is a basic concept behind our ideal of justice. Problem solved, right? But the difficulty is just beginning.
We all have a different definition of fair. And many have differing views to what constitutes a “right.” We have a right to privacy… except when we don’t. We have a right to marry… except when we don’t. We have a right to keep and bear arms… except when we don’t.
My older daughter is offended because if she behaves badly, she loses something that her younger sister doesn’t have anyway. It’s not fair, she reasons, that if she fights with her sister she loses her dance class while her sister only loses TV time that she was losing anyway because she has to come along to dance class. Although I have explained repeatedly that “fair” does not mean “equal,” she continues to insist on this point. And, perhaps she’s right.
As a parent, however, I have an obligation to address inappropriate behaviour as best I can. I acknowledge my imperfections in this, and accept that from time to time I will make mistakes. My responsibility in that situation is to learn from those mistakes and to not make them again.
The same is true for Knights. We may be called upon by people to “mete out justice” because they believe they’ve been wronged. When this happens, we have to consider a couple of important points. First, has harm actually been done? Being offended doesn’t mean one has been harmed. Not liking something doesn’t mean it harms you. Just because someone is offended does not justify our action.
Second, there is the matter of proportionality. What “justice” does the person seek, and is it out of proportion to the harm that was done? If it is out of proportion, we must refuse, not because justice is satisfied but because injustice does not balance injustice. As Pagan Knights, we are rarely called upon to mete out justice in the instant. There are times when an instant response is called for, but never have I been called upon in a mediation situation where the resolution had to be decided and implemented immediately. One has time to consider an appropriate response.
Third, and frankly most importantly, is our intentionality. Whatever energy we put to the universe is attuned to us. If we put angry, vengeful energy out, the universe recognizes us as angry, vengeful people and gives us more of that energy that we apparently like so much. (I imagine an energy barista serving up cups of resentment. “Man, everybody’s getting that stuff, what’s up with that?” “I don’t know, I can’t stand the stuff myself, but a lot of people seem to like it.”) As I said previously, injustice won’t ultimately balance justice, and if we set out on a path of injustice it has the potential to harm many, including ourselves.
Like a parent, we must learn from our mistakes, and strive to do better next time. We must consider our actions in the context of the Wiccan Rede, and remember that “harm” cares not for good intentions- if we acted to harm except in absolute need, it sends a message to the universe as to what kind of person we are. If we do so constantly, the universe accepts this as a constant personality characteristic. Such a person is not a Knight. At best he or she is a well-meaning bully, convinced that the righteousness of his or her actions despite repeated evidence from the universe that harm has been caused.
A warrior is a person who takes a searching and fearless moral inventory and uses that knowledge to change the world. If we are to be Knights, we must be fearless about our truths… especially the ones we don’t like.