Fairness in Life

Is there such a thing as ultimate fairness? Say, in the sense of what most Westerners understand by the word “karma”? Karma is action. Karma is being presented with choices, and wearing the consequences of your choices.
Human beings have Free Will. All of us, from me, to victims of undesirable behaviour, to the perpetrators of such behaviour, have the choice to behave morally or immorally. We can only do our best. If other people don’t, it may impact on us, but it does not follow that we can choose to behave worse next time around.
My daughter, who gets around on bicycles a lot of the time, has four times been targetted by bicycle thieves. After the first time, when we walked past a bike left outside a local shop, she said: “I should just get on that and ride it home.” She felt she deserved the bike because she had lost one of her own. By the time number four was stolen, she didn’t believe she had any right to cause the same sense of loss to someone else, which is the responsible thing to do.
Ultimately, all people, including perpetrators of unpleasant behaviours, are just muddling through our lives, the best way we know how, given our genes and our personal emotional history. Some of us have manifestly higher standards of “best” than others, but we are all human, and we are all ultimately struggling with life and with the responsibility of being ourselves. People cannot be blamed for that, and vengeance only perpetuates the cycle of pain. Re-education is the only thing that has even a skerrick of a chance of working.
Goodness, honesty and integrity is not about living in a society where nothing negative ever challenges us. Goodness is about being challenged – and rising to the challenge.
In 1976 when I was still in high school, a teacher presented me with a novella by a writer called Peter de Rosa, called “The Best of All Possible Worlds”. Basically, an alien called a Gumphlumph came to earth, and was horrified by how we treat each other. He was happy to just sit in a tree and sing to it, hoping it would grow better because of the love. He was befriended by a child, and during the ongoing dialogue between the two of them, the child of earth accustomed to evil, and the alien gumphlumph, accustomed to goodness, both underwent a great deal of personal growth: the child realised that you can change your attitude to what happens around you and maintain a positive and optimistic outlook no matter what actually happens to you, and the gumphlumph realised that in a defective world people have more chances to exercise their personal goodness and develop their personal endurance than in a world where everyone is well-fed and no one is in conflict or ill. After all: in the land of the deaf, Mozart and the Beatles would have no purpose. In the land of the perpetually healthy, healers would have no purpose. Negativity in society is actually a wealth of opportunity, if only we can see it, and more, act on it.
Someone asked recently how a rape victim can come to terms with their attacker. I can answer this one very personally, also. Early nineteen-eighties, I don’t even remember what year. I was in a Reiki circle, and there was a Vietnam Vet, a guy we all knew was significantly damaged, in the group. I’d been a part of the group, and had known him, for a year or two. For a fortnight, there was something that was jagging at my intuition in a very wrong way about him, and I rang him up and offered him a Tarot reading (My policy: you ask, you pay; I offer, it’s free, dates from around then). I was using the miniature RW, and the only card I can actually remember coming out (only because it was so relevant) was the Devil. I interpreted this to mean that he really needed to rein in his baser instincts: he was about to cause himself and perhaps other people a whole world of grief if he just let fly and exercised no self-control.
He offered to buy me dinner as an exchange for my time and the reading, and I accepted, leaving my stuff in his flat. Over dinner he kept trying to hold my hand, and I kept withdrawing it. I had to go back to his upstairs flat – my bag and house-and-car-keys were in it. As soon as we were back inside, he deadlocked the door behind me. I was in trouble. There were two menu-options presented to me: sex with extreme violence, and sex without extreme violence. I’ve always been a coward: I chose the latter option. In the end I gave him the best oral sex I could muster in order to get it to end quickly, and promptly vomited all over him. I grabbed his keys and my stuff, and let myself out while he was still cursing and wiping himself up. I dressed in the hall outside the flat, threw his keys back in, and went home to soak myself in a tub of boiling bleach for hours. I burnt the clothes I had been wearing. I felt dirty for weeks, and I couldn’t ever go back to the Reiki circle because he got in with his version first, telling them that I’d “broken his heart” (how, they never specified – I just lost several friendships I really valued).
Time helped. What I learnt from it, reinforced by other incidents here and there, was:-
1) just how tough I really am. Stuff happens, and no matter what, sooner or later I pick myself up off the floor and keep going.
2) no matter how clear a warning is in a Tarot reading, people will often go *completely* against it, sometimes immediately.
3) never, ever to leave my stuff in someone else’s home no matter how much I like and trust them. If we go out for a walk together I might need to leave prematurely and then where would I be?
And no, number 3 isn’t flippant – it’s absolutely a life-lesson I’ve absorbed.
I honestly don’t know what life-lessons other people can take from their experiences, seeing as how I’m not them and don’t know their whole life-stories, but I’m sure in time they’ll come to a measure of awareness.
Some of the normal human reactions to negative events are to blame other people, blame god, deny that goodness exists, become closed-off (and with that angry or depressed), and so forth. What else can people do?
Cats and dogs lick their wounds. Then they get on with it. We as humans may never get back to being undamaged. We may never be the people we were before. But we may, in time, develop positive qualities or a wisdom you didn’t have before, and reach a measure of calmness.
Many of our spiritual advisers recommend mildness, and in the specific case of Christianity, the phrases “love thine enemies” and “turn the other cheek” spring to mind. Looked at superficially, it would seem that people who practise these tenets regularly get trodden on.
They are useful rebellious techniques, nonetheless, given the cultural context of the man who gave them to us. In any society at any time, loving thine enemy will drive them crazy with frustration – and is far less toxic than stewing about it (if you can’t manage love, indifference will do). And in Jesus’ time, under the emperors Augustus and Tiberius, the Roman legions occupying the provinces operated under an edict whereby an armed Roman soldier could hit an unarmed local person – once. If they hit them a second time, there was a death penalty in force. (I think it’s documented in Suetonius, I’m not certain, it’s been over a decade since I read contemporary accounts). So Jesus was saying to a suppressed population: if they belt you once, stand up and offer yourself to be belted again. It will hurt you – but the bastard-soldier who did it will be executed if there are witnesses around. And if we get enough of them executed, we may be able to stage an uprising! Like Gandhi many centuries later battling the British Raj, the guy was a past-master at knowing how to use pacifism pro-actively as a weapon of war.
Me, I tend to do the licking-my-wounds thing. Then I tend to feel so sorry for how much internal pain they must have and/or what poor parenting they must have had, to drive them to such acts. The path that suits you better may be entirely different.
I don’t believe, though, that it’s up to the victim to re-educate the offender. No, it’s up to society at large or the Justice System, I feel. In most cases the victim will be vulnerable and not in any fit state to deliver lessons of any kind except, perhaps, in the form of victim impact statements.
And I truly believe that offenders may feel more offended-against than offending, persecuted by people from their past or even by society as a whole, and may see lashing out in a way that injures individuals as a form of revenge or reaction, and while regrettable for the victim as entirely natural given their personal circumstances. You’re not going to get spontaneous remorse – people like that need healing. And the issue of  “chemical imbalances and personality disorders” come right back to where I mentioned their genes and their personal history.
The justice system can choose to do three things: it can seek to make the offender suffer as much as (or more than) their victim suffered, which does not heal the victim or the people around the victim, and only ingrains the offender’s potential sense of pain and injustice against them that may have led to the offence in the first place. This is vengeance, and it only perpetuates pain.
 It can seek to take the offender off the street in order to protect the rest of the community from a potential repetition of the offence. Or thirdly, it can seek to rehabilitate the offender: provide them with physical, chemical and psycho-therapy aimed at healing them and re-education aimed at allowing them to develop the tools they need to re-integrate back into society as a beneficial human being. This last course of action is really the only one that has any chance of producing an improved outcome for the offender, the victim and society as a whole, and is the model that the Justice System in its own, flawed, underdeveloped way, aims at in Australia.
So far, the success-rate, ie, rehabilitation into society and preventing re-offence, is a minority-outcome. But in gaol situations where a particular gaol is attached to a wildlife rescue service, or has a choir and musical programme, or is attached to the Guide Dog training scheme, the prisoners who get actively involved in these schemes have an over-90% rate of full rehabilitation eight years after release, according to a documentary I saw recently. That’s pretty stunning, and far superior to the re-offending statistics that can be cited in countries that do not have similar programmes.
So – don’t put them into gaol to rot and reconsider their sins. They will, indeed reconsider their sins – how to do them better next time and not get caught. Instead, put them into gaol, get them to look after helpless baby marsupials on two-hourly feeds around the clock in their cells, or to train guide dogs on a one-to-one basis in the gaol, or whatever. When a programme works in one gaol, don’t just leave it there – find the funding to open similar programmes in other gaols in other regions. Turn as many people as possible from bitter train-wrecks with deep grudges against society into glowing individuals with problems, yes, but with the motivations to move forwards in life.
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5 Responses to Fairness in Life

  1. Quiet says:

    I am sorry that you had that experience with the Vietnam vet.

    You said something about the power of thought in the post on criticism that is relevant here.

    Many of us have had devastating experiences and wonder why. Sometimes you know why and sometimes you don’t. Maybe understanding and knowledge comes later but sometimes they may not, in this life anyway.

    Karma does mean ‘As a man sows, so shall he reap’. It is so simple but understanding ‘karma’ can be a lifetime’s work – trail and error!

    I had no idea until the last few years of the power of thought. If we think and feel negatively, then we may be creating an even more fearful future. But if we meditate on courage, hope, patience and beauty we can weave these qualities into our characters. It is a matter of slow and steady perseverance and we simply have to keep trying. It becomes easier. Some, like me, have to begin this through a fairly disciplined framework.

    These principles are fundamental to many beliefs: the teachings of the Christ, Buddhism, Hinduism. I know little about Islam but I am sure some version of these things are there too.

    I agree with you that most people who offend criminally have, in some way, been damaged. Many who hurt others may simply be striking back because of some ancient and possibly unidentified hurt. Locking people in prisons without any education or means by which they can change perpetuates the cycle. The State has responsibility to treat people with mercy.

    As we prepare for yet another election, I am saddened about the voracious need of some sections of the community for severe ‘punishment’ of people who offend. There must be some punishment perhaps, but also the opportunity to become something other than despairing and angry.

    • nisaba000 says:

      The Sanscrit word Karma actually means something between an action and a decision or choice. The thing with Karma bothers me. People keep using it as a justification: “Maybe it’s my karma to keep getting into relationships where I get hurt”, “maybe it’s my karma to be poor”. This enables them to do nothing with a clear conscience. It isn’t their karma. You may be born into poverty or a violent situation, but your karma is how you deal with that – whether you chose to succumb, or whether you take whatever steps are available to you, however small, to change things, even if it’s just your attitude you change. A former next-door neighbour of mine used to cry a lot because “she’d been hurt in the past”. I’ve been hurt in the past, too, and one day we sat down together and compared notes. I’d actually had a much harder childhood than she had, and similar adulthood trials. But while she said “poor me, poor me”, I’m just happy they’re over, and up to explore whatever’s next around the corner. I know which one of us is happier: I choose (my karma) to be happier in my circumstances, she “chooses” (her karma) to do for whatever payoff she finds in pity, with a really very similar background. I’d rather be me, any day.

      • Quiet says:

        My definition of karma comes from Annie Besant’s work on karma but it is a rhetorical definition. Karma is more complex than that phrase. She was a theosophist with inclinations towards Hinduism and has written a number of works dealing with ‘karma’.

        I agree that the popular understanding of karma which you illustrate) is not what it is all about. People do misunderstand, not often assisted by the popular media.

        The reality is that one learns to choose how to think and act, usually after experiencing the negative impacts of poor thinking and acting! This is a process of trial and error, sometimes through many life times. (I believe).

  2. Quiet says:

    Came back to say that the term ‘consequences’ is better than’punishment’.

  3. Nisaba, that sucks, and I’m not trying to be funny- a similar thing happened to me, with someone who purported to be my boyfriend at the time. Hadn’t thought about it for years. Right there with you; I remember the feeling.

    I constantly try to help broken people and constantly end up in trouble, being used and taken for granted. It has invariably ended with me walking out after using my words as exocet missiles, leaving them sitting in their own scheiss gasping while I move on to a place where I use that experience for good in some way, whether through being more compassionate and understanding of others in trouble or by using it as the spark for something creative. So far I’ve always been able to transcend the scheiss eventually (though getting away from the discovery that my father had been the perpetrator of a similar assault on a friend of mine was a little hard to leave behind; war has a lot to answer for- I’m quite sure that it did my father’s head in, but I didn’t realise it until I was writing his eulogy).

    Throwing away the key, to me, is only for the mad dogs who are beyond redemption. But as you say, clemency is not a popular view. The fellow who inflicted his unwanted body parts on me was, really, just stupid and needed some education on the difference between porn and real life, but if I’d made a fuss there was no chance of him getting that. Better to just keep walking and use my end of the karma for good.

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