In the book Eat, Pray, Love, Liz Gilbert and her friend Giulio have an entertaining and insightful conversation about how every city has a word that defines it (for example, Rome is “sex” and Stockholm is “conform”) and if your personal word is different, you may not be a good fit for that city. In the end, Liz realizes that she is on a journey to find her word.
I’ve thought about that scene in the book (and movie) many times and wondered, what is my word? In the past, it would have been words such as “ambitious,” “successful,” and “organized.” But I’ve changed a lot (a family crisis will do that to you).
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is my complete inability to tolerate injustice.
I remember sitting in my first grade classroom, the perfect student without any bad behavior tallies, when one of my classmates started to whisper something to me. I tried to ignore him, knowing that he would get us both in trouble, but Mrs. Symons had already caught us in the act. We both received tallies, even though I tried to explain that I had no part in it, and tears welled up in my eyes. The injustice of it all!
Fast forward to when I managed software products for a living. I was discussing with our sales exec a win-loss analysis project where my team would call customers and non-customers to ask factors leading to winning or losing a sale. He asked me point blank not to let one of my employees from India make the calls, because of his accent(!) There was no way I could let that one slide. I talked (and cried) to our CEO, who encouraged me to confront the sales guy. Confront him I did—and he backpedaled.
These are just a couple of examples to demonstrate that I cry (or come close to it) when I encounter injustice—whether the injustice is directed toward me or somebody else.
I can’t stand it.
So this sense of justice is buried somewhere deep within me, and lately, I’ve had so many signals that justice might be my word.
I read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, which describes in excruciating detail the injustice of our justice system (the irony). It was jarring and opened my eyes (even more) to the racial and socioeconomic injustice that puts women and men—and even children—behind bars.
I’m currently reading The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, which demonstrates a close relationship between inequality and poor public health outcomes (including mental distress, teen pregnancy, and violence).
The injustice that exists in our country between the richest and the poorest wears on me daily.
(I’m tearing up now as I type this, because I see so much effort going into helping people feel better—there’s so much suffering—through treatment and interventions, but we’re not getting to the root of the problem! It seems the injustice is so great, we don’t even know how to tackle it. But tackle it we must.)
Then the other day, I came across this quote from the Talmud:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
We must not be daunted. Rather, we must take action, now. I am slowly coming to accept that I will not be able to complete the work. Our children will be the ones to do that—and they will set a different course for our world. A course toward unwavering, all-encompassing justice.
Justice is the path to peace.
The final signal came at a laughter yoga retreat I attended a couple of weeks ago. During one of our sessions, “a piece of the peace,” participants were encouraged by the facilitator to take a blank puzzle piece and write one word on it to contribute to world peace. We were then to outline the puzzle piece on a big parachute (that would travel all around the world) and write our word on it. In that moment, I knew I had found my word. I didn’t have to think about it for even a split second.
My word is justice.