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Fighting Injustice - Within and Without

I was re-reading Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail – which is a powerful call to defend justice in the world. His famous quote from that letter is: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” However, I also found compelling his discussion of justice itself and our inherent responsibility as citizens to determine whether the “man-made code squares with the moral law or Law of God.” This is the discernment we each must use every day to evaluate whether our actions are in service of our highest purpose in this life.

In his appeal to his fellow clergymen, Dr. King defines “just laws” as those that uplift human personality and make equality or sameness legal, whereas unjust laws degrade human personality and make difference legal. Since laws are simply a code of behavior, this distinction should apply to all our actions. The basic question is whether we are choosing to see the “other” as a human with all the complexities that make up the human predicament or whether we choose to reduce them to a flat static object (less than ourselves) and use them to justify or defend some flawed and limiting personal belief. Racism, sexism, nationalism, politicism, or any other system of beliefs which seeks to label and treat a whole demographic as a less human “other” are gross examples of this.

However, at much subtler levels, we encounter threats to justice in small moments every day. Arguments at work, arguments at home, disagreements between neighbors, getting cut off while driving down the highway, a rude interaction with a store employee, passing a homeless person on the street – for many of us, these are situations where it is often easier and more comfortable to see the other as an object rather than a person. But this is exactly what Dr. King meant by “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. We must grapple with the injustice of our own hearts if we are to stand for justice in the world.

There is simple and wonderful book “The Anatomy of Peace” by the Arbinger Institute ( that should be required reading for every human being. They call this state of objectifying the other and seeing them as something less that how we regard ourselves as having your “heart at war”. Whereas, when we can see the humanity in the other, regardless of whether they are friend or foe, then our hearts are at peace. The way we see and treat each other is the driver of whether our own hearts are at peace or at war.

Similarly, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart.” For many of us, the opportunity to stand up to injustice in a bold and public way may be a rare occurrence. However, we can fight our own personal battles everyday – an argument with a spouse where we focus on whatever justifies our defensive story, our perpetuation of social media echo chambers that casts one group against another, the excuse we give for not even giving a second glance at the homeless person on the corner, the rudeness we show against the call center employee that is just trying to do their job. Instead of degrading the other for our own defense, these are all moments where we can choose justice, choose to see the other as fully human, choose to call out injustice but in such a way that keeps our hearts at peace. Each of these moments takes inner courage and a willingness to lean into the tension. Later in his letter, Dr. King goes on to talk about avoiding “negative peace” which simply avoids tension, but rather insisting on “positive peace which is the presence of justice”.

I know so many people - myself included - that feel helpless in the face of the many injustices plaguing the world. We wish we could do more. Unfortunately, for a whole spectrum of reasons, we do not commit to the time to do more. Although, it is our civic duty to participate in actively striving to make our community and world a better place, to do so with integrity we must also work on ourselves. We must start with routing out the injustice in our own hearts, honoring the humanity in others, and leaning into the discomfort of the tension of opposites. Through our own individual example and how we see the world and interact with others (which we have total control over), we can do our part to honor the dream that Dr. King and many other great souls throughout history have shown us is possible.

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