This week I am continuing my series on the Unitarian Universalist principles. This week I will be focusing on the second principle: justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.
Many of you may wonder, like I did when I first heard this principle, how is it different than the first one? I’m still working this out but the first one is how you view people and the second one is how you relate to people. They can be viewed independently but taken together they are the backbone of how I try to live my life.
Justice: “just (according to what is morally right and fair) behavior or treatment”
We often think about justice in the form of punishment or discipline. The idea of the justice system comes to mind which is supposed to put a person on trial and use evidence to determine whether a crime was committed. Without actually putting people on trial I do try to discipline, both my students and the Munchkin with consequences that follow the laws of being morally right and fair, generally in the form of natural consequences.
Discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina (which was the name of a goddess) that meant education, training, self-control. Discipline is meant to help teach children the right way to behave, not just scare them into submission. The goddess Disciplina was favored by soldiers attempting to have an orderly and productive life out on the frontiers of the Roman Empire.
I firmly believe that people want to do right when they can. Especially the Munchkin. She is almost 4 at this point and meltdowns are a commonplace occurrence. For example: this past week she was sick and got sent home from daycare so she was tired, irritable and the rest of her week was off. I know that she’s giving us the best she can at any given moment. She’s a small kid in a big world just starting to feel big feelings about it all. Sometimes she can’t understand or control them, therefore I try to remain calm and remember that she would be doing the right thing right now if she could. This isn’t to say that I don’t lose my cool with her or not had my best day but by trying to give her the benefit of believing she’s trying to do the right thing I can give her consequences that make sense instead of just arbitrarily punishing her. This allows the consequence to be a natural progression of the attitude or behavior which is a better and easier discipline tactic than just taking her tablet away or putting her in time out if those things are not related to the behavior I want to correct and the lesson I want to teach her.
Equity: “the quality of being fair and impartial”
What does equity mean? And is it a synonym for equality? The short answer to that is no. Equality does not mean the same as equity.
“All things being equal” is a phrase that highlights the meaning of equality. Equality means that everyone gets the same chance or the same resources. Equity is more nuanced, it means getting what everyone NEEDS to be on the same page in the same place. This was once described to me as getting glasses. The Mr. and I both have eyes and both our pairs of eyes need glasses. Equality would be both of us getting the same prescription because we both have eyes that need glasses. Equity would be each of us getting the prescription we NEED to be able to see clearly. If the Mr. puts on my glasses and I put on his, both of us are still kinda blind. The world is still blurry and neither of us can accomplish anything. Putting on the right prescription lets each of us see clearly. Equity is a lot like that. If the medical profession treated everyone EQUALLY we’d all get a prescription for an antibiotic when one of us might need a cast for a broken leg or another person needs a blood pressure medication to not have a heart attack.
I try to look at students as individuals with individual problems and concerns. Each student comes to school with their own hurdles to jump that day. We could discuss some hurdles being harder than others but ultimately everyone has hurdles and to kids their hurdles are the “worst thing ever”. We all deserve to not diminish our hurdles and compare them to anyone being “worse” off than we are; students deserve to be treated with fairness in regards to their hurdles. This is why I try to structure my classroom with small group and one-on-one interactions as much as possible so each student can feel like their hurdles are being addressed and their questions are being answered. Sometimes this works way better than others but I believe the students see that I am trying to take each student as an individual and allowing them the chance to struggle, succeed, and ask questions on their own terms.
Compassion: “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”
Students will also give you more if you’re spending time working with them and getting to know them. I had one student say to me this year “however you want to pronounce it is okay, whatever you’re comfortable with” and I just had to stop and quasi-yell at her. How to pronounce someone’s name is not based on what’s easiest for me it’s supposed to be however it should be pronounced. When I said that to her she looked a little shocked but then I could see her wall come down just a little bit. I put a dent in her armor because I was willing to show her that I cared about who SHE is; I was willing to try and do something as simple as pronouncing her name correctly. I was trying not to continue the suffering of having to correct ANOTHER adult about how to address her or just shut up and suffer silently as people repeatedly mispronounced her name.
As I have said before, the seven principles are deceptively easy to read and understand in an intellectual sense but come with a lot of subtleties when putting them into practice as a religion.
I try to practice the second principle by giving people the benefit of the doubt.
I attempt to see people as individuals who want to do right but for some reason they are falling short. I am the (usually) well-balanced adult who has control over my limbic system (the emotional outburst section of the brain) and therefore can approach the students or the Munchkin without flying off the handle. People, especially teenagers, tend to give you more if they think you’re on their side. Even if you’re punishing them or correcting them they often will respond better if you are guided by the second principle.
That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes but when people know you’re trying it gives you a lot more credibility when you do fail. I have made mistakes and will make mistakes. The one place that I try to do this but ultimately fail the most is with the Mr. Often I get frustrated with the Mr. much quicker than I would with anyone else and it’s usually because I often think he should read my mind or be on the same page I am. Very rarely do I give him the benefit I am giving the other people in my life. I’m not sure why he ultimately gets the worst version of myself over and over again but I am continuing to work on this.
The second principle highlights that human relationships are partnerships between people and taken in conjunction with the first principle we can raise up the whole of humanity