Justice, Mercy, and Motive

07 Apr

In his recent thought-provoking blog post, Hard Time, fellow writer Fred Warren discusses crime and punishment in Star Trek.

He writes:

Punishment was often surprisingly harsh, given Star Trek’s rosy view of the evolution of future society.

That reminded me of discussions I’ve had lately with Bubba and Bubba’s Wife (my brother and sister-in-law) about integrity and agenda in storytelling, religion, and politics, and how mixing the three can either be brilliant or a train wreck, and can often highlight hypocrisy or gaps in logic.

My comment on Fred’s post:

My recent thoughts in similar vein to your post, stuff I’ve been pondering about storytelling and characters and real life:

1) There is something in the human makeup that demands justice — to be visited on someone else, not on us, or it’s “not fair”.
2) We want revenge for what’s done to us, but mercy for what we do.
3) The same folks in Hollywood who are demanding gun control and “talking it out” with our enemies are getting rich on movies involving gun violence and an-eye-for-an-eye responses to people who do the heroes wrong.

We humans think we’re better than we really are. We also forget that old but true cliche — actions speak louder than words — and the Biblical principle that, intentionally or not, we will speak what’s in our hearts.

Listen to movie viewers or book readers. Stories are most satisfying when the guy gets the girl, the bad guy gets his just desserts, and good triumphs over evil.

But who is good, who is evil, and what is just?

It’s human nature not to see ourselves as the bad guys. We’re the heroes of our own stories, and anyone standing in our way is a villain.

Not necessarily so. That person might be an antagonist, in that their goals oppose or obstruct ours, but they very well might not be an enemy.

And none of us are as heroic and pure as we’d like to think.

Whenever I stood against unreasonable demands in my old job, or outright breaking of policy simply to serve someone’s selfish ends, I was called names, verbally slapped down by the individual and by my superiors, and threatened with firing. Simply because these people didn’t get their way, they wanted me to pay a price, usually demanding my livelihood as fair exchange.

In those instances, my job was to be a brick wall, to do the right thing because it was right.

My motives were not pure, however. I’m stubborn. I can be proud. I don’t like people pushing me around. So there was a high degree of “I’m gonna outlast you” tenacity that didn’t serve me well. In fact, it cost my health and my peace of mind.

When I finally left and moved to an entirely different state, it took months for me to deprogram from that stress. Later, with objectivity and honesty, I could see that I hadn’t been as right as I thought. I, too, had been the antagonist to others, had made their time difficult when they worked with me. In an effort to be the manager and keep things running smoothly and correctly, I was sometimes more rigid than I needed to be.

I’m also not much of a “people person”, so working with the public is exhausting. The less of it, the better. I made mistakes in working relationships and in public relations. I didn’t mean to be an enemy, but I was certainly an antagonist.

But would firing me have solved any of the problems? Would it have been just? No. I can say that with honesty.

Oh, sure, the immediate obstacle — me — would have been eliminated, and people could have their way in this or that, but the real problem for all of us goes deeper than the surface.

The real problem is the heart: who we are and what we want, why we want it and what we’re willing to do to get it.

And, if we step over the line into evil, are we willing to pay the price justice demands?

Or, as I wrote above, do we demand justice of everyone else, but mercy for ourselves?


Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Characters, Journeys, Life, Stories, Uncategorized, Writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 responses to “Justice, Mercy, and Motive

  1. Johne Cook

    April 7, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Fascinating. I think much of this is what bothered me about Aronofsky’s depiction of Noah – he was consumed by a thirst for Justice but unable to consider dispensing either Grace or Mercy (even though he was ultimately personally changed by an act of mercy at the end of the story).

  2. Keanan

    April 7, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Justice v. Mercy — maybe it’s that disconnect that leads so many of us to see God as perpetually angry, perpetually punishing, always withholding good but never standing in the way of evil. In other words, we think of Him as flawed and ourselves as good. We think God acts like us.

    But I’m just thinking’ out loud here.


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