Words. They still matter.

Words. They still matter.


What is justice?

Justice is fundamental fairness, equity and recognition. Balancing the scales, right?


Or is justice retribution, retaliation and punishment? Balancing the scales?

Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to a wonderful lecture by Professor James Kimmel, Jr., a co-founder of Yale's Collaborative for Motive Control Studies. He's the one who pointed out this apparent paradox in the term "justice." On one hand it's a high ideal, an elevated principle. On the other, it's motivation for revenge, retaliation, even for violence against others. His life's work has been directed toward helping people safely manage overwhelming grievances that may otherwise lead them to commit violent acts and hurt other people. (See his website savingcain.org.)


It got me thinking, once again, how much words matter. They always have, and I've always said so. Some of the words in our weekly conversation that came to mind while I was contemplating the paradoxical "justice" include patriot, liberal, conservative, Christian. When words like these are imbued with high emotion and self-righteousness, there is often little room left for any other interpretation.

This phenomenon is found in everyday discourse. In our house, we weren't permitted to say "hate" -- as in "I hate lima beans" or "I hate my gym class" -- because the word hate has a powerful meaning. It didn't mean we liked what we didn't like but we learned to distinguish between levels of distaste and, more important, realized that there is really nothing and no one that we truly hate. Abhor, despise, are repulsed, yes. But, hate? That's a pretty strong thing to say about lima beans.

And people.


Even the ones you are sure you've got all figured out.