January 3–Justice: Bestowing Bounty

What is justice? Giving water to trees. What is injustice? To give water to thorns. Justice consists in bestowing bounty in its proper place, not on every root that will absorb water.

– Rumi

Poetry invites, incites, and implicates.  At the very least.

I am a fan of the Persian mystic poet we call Rumi who wrote in Urdu 700 years ago.  I read these short lines of Rumi’s about justice.

Rumi sees justice as bestowing bounty in the right place.  Do I see justice that way?  I know people right this minute whose family member is  in a crucial healthcare scare, and their health insurance is resisting cooperation.  Certainly it would be just to bestow a bounty of funds on them and all people like them who need care, desperately, who are being hindered from it.  What a proper place to bestow bounty!

But, who decides what is the proper place to bestow bounty? We have a President who has said that he wants to gather up all undocumented immigrants and “send them back home.”  Today’s news reports that Israel has decided to force African migrants out of the country.  I encounter people who think that social safety net programs are all being scammed or more bluntly that poor people are lazy and unworthy of bounty.

Who in this world is a tree?  Who in this world is a thorn? And, by the way, don’t thorns have some proper place in the scheme of things? (roses and blackberries come to mind!). When I decide who the trees are and who the thorns are, what does that decision imply about my place in the world?

If we were the bestowers of bounty in all the proper places . . .
. . . what would your form of justice look like?

Bob Patrick

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