Fairness and Justice

Discuss some issue of personal concern, and its importance to you.

Fairness is a quality that I try hard to embody, and I admire those who demonstrate the impartiality necessary to be just. But people often mistake impartiality as the defining characteristic of someone who is fair. Empathy is more essential because it is necessary not only to understand but to be invested fully in a situation in order to render a fair judgment.About a month ago I encountered the first critical situation that required me to question what it meant to be fair. Two of my classmates created and showed a video that poked fun at some of the racial stereotypes affecting minority students. The video sparked deep divisions as students expressed strong opinions judging its content, context, and significance. As co-head of Another Perspective, Dalton’s diversity group dedicated to discussing issues affecting students, I felt an obligation to facilitate constructive dialogue that would allow the various factions to meet. During our first meeting of about one hundred students, I was distraught over how best to be fair. I had my own opinions: that school is not the place to attack peoples’ identities; that the very nature of the film as offensive towards some meant that everyone should feel upset; and that no one has the right to tell someone else that they should or should not be offended. I wanted to side with people who shared my equally “right” views. But I had seen the futile efforts of others as their tried to assert their opinions and explain why they were right. So I held my tongue. Instead, I ran the meeting asking questions and forcing people to consider and explain to others how and why they felt the way they did. Although we did not “fix” anything at that time we began to sort out exactly what our problems were and how we could go about solving them. What I came to realize was that truly being fair is much harder than illuminating the “right” way of seeing things. It would require me to give up my short-term desire to impart my “right” way of seeing things in favor of mutual understanding, and long-term progress. Fairness means loving and respecting your peers enough to see past the short term. In caring about the well being of a community, which in this case was my school, I had to be objective and put aside my inclination to favor people who shared my view. My responsibility as a leader is to create an environment encouraging participation, and ensuring that the most important factors are addressed and their significance understood. Hopefully with this strategy the group will come to the “right” conclusions. It isn’t about the tendencies that we have to favor one position over another, but the necessity to empathize – and not just sympathize – with both sides. And so unequal treatment becomes unnecessary as you learn to embrace those who hold adversary opinions and begin to understand what makes people think the way they do.

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