The Relationship in Justice

The etymology of words can inform us how to use them. Justice can be used in many ways so let us briefly look at its roots and then examine it through the lens of social justice.

Justice is “the exercise of authority in vindication of right by assigning reward and punishment”. It derives from the Latin isutitia ‘righteousness, equity’, from iustus ‘upright, just’. The exercise of authority implies a relationship and this is the piece that often is missing when one talks of and uses the word justice. Relationship implies rightness between the participants. If there is disconnect, lack of rightness, there cannot be justice.

The relationship component is an essential nonnegotiable part of the equation in social work and justice for the poor  Removing “relationship” results in a utilitarian material society, one that has no human element.  Looking at justice through a relationship lens colors the world differently.  When we discuss an issue like just/living wage, we talk of the employee earning enough to meet life’s needs.  We also acknowledge the rights of the employer because if a wage hike leads to a company going out of business it is not just. All relationships are complex living and dynamic balances, and the same is true for social justice.

I’m attending a Social Ministry conference today, which is why this is on my mind…