Monday, July 22, 2013

Love, Not Justice, Fulfills the Law

There's a lot of commentary in the aftermath of the verdict in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin. Even I, who now generally avoids the news, couldn't avoid some of the commentary. Because I didn't follow it too closely, I am not at all qualified to determine whether Zimmerman is guilty or not. What I do find more interesting is the strong reactions people have, particularly using the word, justice.

I remembering reading one person (I don't know who) stating something like, "Justice hasn't happened because his death wasn't punished." I find it a sad state of affairs when we equate justice with punishment. This is something I discuss a lot in parent groups when the topic of discipline comes up.

What is the purpose of discipline or justice? Ultimately, it is to set things right. Especially from a disciplinary perspective, psychology has consistently found that reinforcing positive behavior is far more effective than punishing negative behavior, when possible. Research into our "justice" system has discovered the same thing. The consequences society gives to dissuade crime doesn't actually dissuade much crime.

Will continuing to dole out punishments really help people learn? Will that help our society become less racist? Will it help your child learn to value school? It can teach behavioral submission and conformity, but not necessarily the deeper values.

Rather, love and support do this. Acceptance of people where they're at rather than forcing them to be something they're not can actually help them move to a place of change. And remember that acceptance does not mean agreement or approval. There's a lot of good psychological research in this area (DBT is a good place to start on this).

Interestingly, the book of Romans seems to agree. Just look at the second half of Romans 13:10: "love is what fulfills the law." Punishment seems to meet human needs of vengeance. But does it actually do good?

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