Justice or mercy? The more emotional the issue, the more divided the opinions. We often encounter issues that tempt us to decide: should we insist on justice, knowing that justice always have consequences? Should we show mercy and always try and understand the other side of the coin? Or should public opinion be the determining factor?

In the past weeks a number of these emotional issues have been in the headlines.

In May Burma's military regime jailed and charged the pro-democracy opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, because a man swam across a lake to her house. She is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest and faces a possible five years in prison. She has been confined to her house for 13 of the past 19 years. Is that not a form of imprisonment as well? So the fuss is not about her being in prison. It is about her exchanging one kind of prison for another without having any say in the matter because she stands for democracy. And where is the justice in punishing her for the actions of another person?

But could there possibly be another side to this argument? She will probably be charged under the Safeguarding the State from the Dangers of the Subversive Elements law in Burma. There are people in Burma that do not want complete democracy. There is a culture in Burma that suits the Burmese people, and they regard democracy as subversive and as a threat to their culture. Are they entitled to take such a stance? Surely they have freedom to choose against democracy as much as they have freedom to choose for democracy? If democracy works in one country, how can we assume that it will work in every other country?

South Africa, a country that is known for its hospitality and ubuntu (love for your neighbour) is in the news for having no mercy for their neighbours.

Many Zimbabwean citizens have entered South Africa illegally. The health system in Zimbabwe has collapsed completely, and there is hardly any food for the citizens. On the other hand, South Africa has only just entered a recession, and conditions in general are far better than in Zimbabwe.

The overloaded health system in South Africa is already under pressure because of the high incidence of HIV/AIDS and the population growth.

South Africa has less than 7 doctors per 10 000 people whereas the UK has around 21, the United States around 24 and many European countries more than 30. More than 60% of medical doctors who choose to stay in the country, serve less than 20% of the population.

Now South Africa is being criticised for failing to provide health services to Zimbabwean citizens that are illegally in South Africa. These people are unable to pay for their food, let alone any medical service. Should the South African government provide for Zimbabweans who are suffering because of an insane dictatorship, or should they look after their own tax-paying citizens first and ignore the plight of these old, frail illegal immigrants?

The closure of Guantanamo Bay has been heralded by some, and questioned by others. The inmates of Guantanamo Bay have been accused of horrendous crimes against humanity and tortured for these crimes. Is torture justified when it is done on behalf of a government, but not justified when the opposition to the government become the torturers? A terrorist and a freedom fighter are defined by one’s perspective.

It is interesting to see how many of the opponents of Guantanamo Bay are now unwilling to accept the prisoners that will be released from the camp. Is this really a matter of “we only look after our own”, or is it a matter of “not in my back yard, even if it is my own”? On what grounds could the countries that protested against the imprisonment and torture of people now refuse to provide refuge to those same prisoners?

This reminds us of the legal action against Nazi war criminals. Yes, atrocities were committed by these people. But how just is retributive action now when it is taken against a sickly octogenarian who must be uprooted from the country where he has lived for over 50 years so that he can die in prison? Where is the mercy in that? Surely those people have had to live with their consciences all these years.

People have donated money to World Vision, only to discover that more than $1 million of the donations never reached Liberia because of fraud. Is it such a good idea to give money to charitable organisations, especially when the donations are solicited by means of expensive television ads and uniquely labelled free pens to sign the donation slips with? Or should we actually support these international charities knowing that some of the money they receive does make a difference? How much worse off would the recipients of this charity be if there was no charity?

In May the Iranian government blocked access to Facebook. In June the Chinese government banned Hotmail, Twitter and Flickr on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. There will be people in China that applaud this move because they understand the immense damage that the media can do when they get hold of a story and blow it out of proportion – we see that al the time with a celebrity culture in the Western world.

There will similarly be people that will object to their freedom of thought and free speech being taken away from them. Is there ever a reason that is good enough to prevent people from accessing information so that they can read and decide for themselves what is right?
The Justice card in tarot reminds us that whenever we look for justice, we should be aware of the consequences. We should open our hearts to our fellow human beings and understand that we are Love above all. Justice can never be applied without mercy.

Is it possible that Love alone can provide answers to all these issues?

Dr Joe Vitale, in his book Zero Limits, describes a Hawaiian healing process called ho'oponopono. The therapist that made this healing process famous was put in charge of a ward of criminally insane patients. This was a ward where psychologists quit on a monthly basis and staff either called in sick very often, or simply quit their jobs.

This therapist never saw any of the patients. He simply went through their files every day, and then looked within himself to see how he created that person's illness. The therapist then repeated “I am sorry, I love you”. As he learnt to love the parts of himself that he earlier did not want to acknowledge, the patients improved significantly. Some patients were released, others were taken off heavy medication, and others were allowed to move around without shackles.

This method of therapy was so successful that eventually there were more (happy) staff members than patients, and today that ward is closed. This is not an urban legend. It was confirmed by the therapist, Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, who is the co-author of the book.

What if we do not try to find existential or practical or morally right answers to any of the questions raised in this article? What if we simply try this method of ho'oponopono to love ourselves, rather than take part in the debate about issues that we can never resolve by debate?

Is ho'oponopono the ultimate combination of justice and mercy?

And if that sounds like a pipe dream, have you heard about the hugging judge? Lee Shapiro was a retired judge, living in San Francisco. He was a very popular speaker at conferences, where he delivered his message of unconditional love.

At a conference he was challenged by the media to prove his message. The first challenge was simply to approach any person in the street and offer a hug. When that proved easy, he was told to approach a meter maid who was having a hard time with an offender. She gratefully accepted his hug, to the chagrin of the media team.

The team then decided to set him a real challenge. When a bus stopped, they told him to approach the six foot two, 230 pounds, mean, tough bus driver and offer him a hug. Lee did this. The bus driver accepted the hug and continued with his task. This left the media team speechless.

Lee was then taken to a home for the disabled. He was not comfortable with this, because he had never hugged people that were terminally ill, severely retarded or quadriplegic. But he believed in his message, and hugged people that he otherwise would never have noticed or approached. There was one particularly disabled man that was drooling on his bib. This man was a real challenge for Lee, but he bent down and hugged the man.

The next moment the man began to squeal and the other patients clanged items together to express their joy. When Lee turned to the medical staff for an explanation, he found that they were all crying. The reason was that it was the first time in 23 years that this man had smiled.

It seems possible, or even probable, that we can heal the world by healing the part of ourselves that created the part of the world that needs healing. Justice always has consequences. The one consequence that we tend to overlook when we demand justice is the effect that any just action will have on ourselves. Of course this approach of offering justice with love will not satisfy the public demand that is often based on an eye for an eye. People have been conditioned for thousands of years to demand retribution. However, it is possible to swing the pendulum to demand love, and if it takes another thousand years to do this, it will be a job well done.

First printed in The If Journal volume 124

Author's Bio: 

Elsabe Smit provides professional transition coaching and psychic readings. See http://www.elsabesmit.com