The seed that eventually grows into justice starts early with the cultivation of fairness. Initially the child‘s emphasis is on “self“ and then advances to include “others” and the necessity to be fair. The Golden Rule, which directs us to treat others as we wish to be treated, leads the virtuous child to respecting the rights of all persons. Once established as a principle of justice it blossoms, as we mature, to a worldview that is concerned with what is happening to all of humanity.
This respect for others includes accepting the basic human dignity and rights of all persons, even those with different beliefs and behaviours. It naturally develops into honesty, courtesy, civility, kindness, empathy, and eventually a new element – tolerance.
Tolerance is the root of justice. It must start with children since it’s opposite, intolerance, can begin at a very early age.
Early indications that a child is developing tolerance and the virtue of justice are:
- respecting adults and authority figures;
- being proud of his or her own culture, heritage and identity;
- not judging, categorizing, or stereotyping others;
- refusing to take part in activities that make fun of people because they are different;
- not laughing at jokes or demeaning comments that are discriminatory, prejudiced, or bigoted;
- refusing to exclude someone because they are different or not as experienced at something as the others; and
- standing up and voicing displeasure and concern for someone who is being put down, insulted, or ridiculed.
At these early stages, a tolerant person starts to:
- listen fairly to all sides of an issue before forming his or her own views and opinions;
- discuss with an open and unbiased mind;
- refrain from trying to force his or her own views on others;
- allow others the freedom of conscience to make moral choices that will be legitimately exercised, provided they do not infringe on the rights of others;
- agree to disagree about even the most controversial of issues; and
- behave and live respectfully with others even as the debate continues over profound differences.
Eventually the tolerant person begins to appreciate the richness of human diversity and recognize the many positive qualities and contributions of people from all backgrounds. The tolerant person embraces diversity by:
- recognizing that each person is not just unique, but uniquely gifted;
- welcoming the chance to learn more about some of the diversities, such as: race, ethnicity, culture, nationality, religion, education, gender, age, ability, disability, economic status, political views, beliefs, and behaviour;
- being friendly, open, and getting to know more people with different backgrounds and beliefs;
- focusing more on positive traits and similarities than differences; and
- finding the good in all people.
And then we have it – Social Justice – increasingly more individuals creating a society that
- understands and values human rights,
- recognizes the dignity of every human being,
- builds institutions that that are based on the principles of equality of opportunity and outcome, democracy, and solidarity;
- helps to protect or make things better for others that are not experiencing freedom and democracy as we do; and
- enhances peace and human security by curtailing hatred, violence, and bigotry.
From a parenting standpoint, two excellent books that discuss this virtue are:
Raising Good Children, Thomas Lickona, Bantam Books, 1994 and
Building Moral Intelligence, Michele Borba, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA., 2001.