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“Justice is what love looks like in public”

In my public life, I find myself talking a lot about issues of justice and equity. But I have long reflected on the fact that at the end of the day, when I go home to my wife and three daughters, the language of “justice” and “equity” morphs into the language of love, compassion, and kindness.

I never say to my daughter: “Please be more just with your sister.” Or, “Be more equitable with her.” I only speak in the language of love: “Love your sister.” “Be kind to her.”

I have long thought that this is because we are conditioned to be somewhat squeamish, even ambivalent, about love. There is a sense that love is sentimental, romantic, irrational. It is unpredictable and fickle. It makes us weak. It causes us to do things that are out of character, like watching sappy movies and leaking out of our eyes. In part due to these reasons, I think, we don’t hear much about love in our politics and our other public discourse.  Too much talk about love and one starts to lose credibility. Becomes soft.

Now, however, as I reflect on all of this violence around us—domestic violence, racialized violence, political violence, gun violence, sectarian violence–I think it goes deeper than that.

Our domestic language of love is accompanied by an implicit understanding of–and belief in–the essential worth and dignity of the other. We don’t fall back on the language of “justice” and “equity” in our domestic lives because we acknowledge and accept our responsibility to love our family members, even if we don’t always like them.

Which leads me to ask:

What would happen if we rejected this bifurcated language that requires the transactional, sanitized language of justice and equity in public and reserves our lexicon about love for the privacy of our domestic lives?

What would happen to us and with us if we brought our love out into the public? What would that look like? What would we become?

How would we be transformed, individually and collectively, if we agreed to acknowledge and accept the intrinsic dignity, value, and worth of our neighbor? And not only the next door neighbor who we like and looks like us, but also the other neighbor who looks weird and talks funny.

And the Black Lives Matter Activist.

And the police officer.

What if we loved them, even if we suspected we might not like them? I suspect we would learn the lesson that families teach so efficiently: that like is not a pre-condition for love, though it is often the result.

As I reflect on these themes, I recall three distinct political philosophers who, each in their unique way, exhort us to embrace a far more aggressive role for love in our public lives.

“Justice,” says Dr. Cornel West, “is what love looks like in public.”

Jesus instructed his disciples to “love your neighbor as yourself,” affirming that there was no greater commandment.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the “beloved community,” not as a utopic vision, but as a uniquely transformational force in our relationships and our communities.

You don’t have to agree with all of them, because they all agree with each other:

Love is not soft, but strong and difficult and transformative.

And it is a radical, profound, and deeply necessary social and political act. Especially today.


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