Friday, April 22, 2011

Attaining Justice and Happiness

In a life where I am immersed in child custody law and surrounded by those who are embroiled in child custody battles, in the pursuit of justice, I somehow manage to attain happiness. What I often see is the result of the paradox of justice - unhappy people.

Let there be no doubt that it is often necessary to engage in a battle for custody of a child and that not all players in the battle are unhappy. Equally though let there be no doubt that at least one of the players in the battle is unhappy. Yet each will profess that he or she is driven by a determination to protect the child, provide for the best interest of the child or to attain justice for the child.

Anecdotally though I know this simply isn't true. It may be what the parties feel but such feelings, although critical to this analysis, do not make the truth. What they are really fighting for - the affections of the child - is what drives this "pursuit of justice".

In the courts of equity there is no defining line, no demarcation between just and unjust as there is in a court of law. Equity instead requires a determination of fairness, as objective as that is to be. The aggrieved are subjective are subject and searching for a result favourable to their objective standard, flippantly defined as fair in most cases. "I just want what is fair" has been a common mantra barked at me in a fit of righteous bantering.

In criminal law I have seen "justice" dispensed with an almost alarming proficiency as though an operations manager stands over the courtroom ensuring that results are predictable and uniform.

I have sat through murder trials, sometimes lasting less than a full day, where families of both the accused and the victim are present. I have watched those I have known get sentenced to a term that will likely not be outlived and the family is unhappy. Across the courtroom is the family of the victim, equally unhappy. Yet, "justice" was served.

So it comes to me - is it possible that a person can attain justice and happiness?

Like in child custody battles, where I believe loss of love or fear of it is the main motivator, so too is it in criminal law. The long prison sentence did not replace the affections of and relationship with the victim.

Justice in the sense that it is used in the legal system is the polite, politically correct synonym for retribution, revenge, punishment or vengeance.

Even in a theft case, although not directly affected by love of a person, justice and happiness may not be able to be harmonized. What was the value in that property that it requires lamenting over the results of the charge against the offender, time out to attend trial, the nervousness of being a witness. Was it lack of affections that drove one to seek refuge in material goods that another thought worthy the risks to obtain through stealing?

In child custody cases it is usually quite easy for me to discern who the unloved parent is. In mediation where I interview both parties it is quite simple. When I am an advocate for the child through a single party I must look to the outward behaviours and manifestations of character of the other party to make such a determination.

Of the tell-tale signs are, first, facial expressions. A happy person will radiate their happiness which is apparent in an uplifted face often expressed through a smile. The unhappy person however may require some detective work.

I have interviewed hundreds of people and discovered some commonalities among them that differentiate the miserable from the joyful. Body image is the first sign.

Truthfully I am not satisfied with my body image and it is a daily struggle to attempt to maintain my body as I wish it to appear. I could offer justifications from OCD through simply wanting to maintain the body I once had as a professional athlete with three percent body fat. Such offering would simply mask some discontentment in my life. Although not significant I thought it still worthy of mentioning.

Contrast this with the mother who desperately clings to her child, trying to win her affections while attempting to alienate her from her father. No amount of time in a tanning bed is too great for her. The heavily pasted on make-up attempts to hide the blemishes occurring as a result of the stress under which she has placed upon herself. The constant array of new clothes as though she is a fashion model, the accessories, the jewelry; none is a replacement for character. Her demeanor, resembling that of a dog-snatching character riding a bicycle through a tornado in a child's dream, is ever present as she is paraded about by the ever-present attorney at her side. Finally, there is the massive weight gain which evidences a tormented soul searching for solace in food.

I've been exposed to another who outwardly showed the signs of the internal struggle of trying to punish the father for some perceived injustice by trying to alienate their children from him. Although the cocaine abuse had made a noticeable impact upon her appearance it wasn't until the two-year divorce process that the effect of aging manifested itself by tearing her skin down in a way that one would think took ten years.

Each fought zealously draining the courts of resources, financing the lifestyle of their respective attorneys and making regular employment by the fathers and nearly unsurmountable task. But what did the journey they embarked upon, motivated by hatred for their children's fathers, get them? They sought what they thought was justice and by reducing the father's to impoverished visitors in their children's lives they must have, in their distorted view, won.

In their minds they fought for and attained justice but were they left with happiness. I contend that they have not. So it comes to me again - is it possible that a person can attain justice and happiness?

At the root of happiness must be love. Love of oneself, the love of others, love of one's people and love of country. The Beatles once rightfully proclaimed in song that you can't buy me love. Love is organic. True love is earned through the deeds and character of one's soul. It stands to reason then that if one performs the acts of a spiteful soul motivated by hatred then that person cannot be happy.

I have intentionally omitted love of one's God for I am an agnostic but let's still look towards the guidance offered by some of the world's major religions.

Judaism, the religion of the Old Testament of the Bible, teaches us to take an eye for an eye. For a Jew to be forgiven he must begin with repentance followed by prayer and good deeds. Thus justice is achieved through retribution and condemnation of the offender.

Similarly, the Koran teaches that we reap what we sow. Salvation is earned through deeds alone. Reciprocity and punishment are the foundations of justice in Islam. Thus, it takes an affirmative act by the one who has wronged us before "justice" is attained and happiness returned.

In contrast, Jesus taught about justice in his Sermon on the Mount. Essentially he said to set aside the ways of Judaism that taught that justice is attained through retribution. Instead he said to turn the other cheek, love your enemies and pray for those who would persecute you. In short, forgiveness was the way to attain "justice".

The eastern religions find some commonality in their methods for attaining justice. Buddhism tells us to abandon anger; "Forsake anger, give up pride. Sorrow cannot touch the man who is not in the bondage of anything, who owns nothing." Although their home country, Tibet, is occupied by the Chinese the Buddhist there still have an easiness about them, a satisfaction with life. Compare this to the Israelis and Palestinians who follow the mantra of combat violence with violence. Who appears to be the happier people?

Confucianism offers a somewhat mixed message; "Answer hatred with justice, and love with benevolence. Otherwise you would waste your benevolence." but also "Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you."

Confucius saw "justice" as a last resort though: "What need is there of the death penalty in government? If you showed a sincere desire to be good, your people likewise would be good. The virtue of the prince is like the wind; the virtue of the people like the grass. It is the nature of grass to bend when the wind blows upon it."

Hinduism teaches that there is no birth and no death but eternal living. The pursuit of justice is a stage that one must experience on the path to reaching the Truth. Once reaching Truth then the craving for justice no longer apply.

Gandhi was a lawyer before becoming a spiritual leader. He preached revolution through non-violence and achieved it; the withdrawal of the British from India. Although he didn't speak directly about justice, in his autobiography he closed with this: "To see the universal and all pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself." This indicates that he felt you should love the ones who wrong you, those whom you may see as the meanest of all creation.

Taoism is quite clear on the pursuit of justice; "When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield." and "Throw away morality and justice, and people will do the right thing." I have long cautioned against externally imposed morality.

I exist not on the planes of right or wrong but in the between where I am what I am. I am guided by self though my shape is drawn from the society in which I reside. I believe this to be the course of many, even those who claim adherence to an aforementioned spiritual belief system. Take the gangster from the hood and surround him with love, he becomes loving. Take the child from the loving home and expose him to a vindictive battle over his affections or person and he becomes hateful.

Even with that guidance we still find that as nations and individuals that the pursuit of justice is paramount. It is the greatest religion because it claims nearly everyone as followers. It's deities, the judges, are the new gods prayed to by the masses through the shamen, the attorneys and prosecutors.

But if justice is the pill to relieve our pains then why are its shamen suffering? Lawyers experience twice the rate of clinical depression as society in general. They also have at least a 50% higher rate of alcoholism. They have the highest rate of divorce and also job dissatisfaction.

The pursuit of "justice" is the primary cause of human suffering, not the anecdote. Forgiveness must be the first step to your happiness. This is a daunting task though as forgiveness seems impossible when your happiness has been taken away and you are in so much pain.

In the realm of child custody battles happiness can only be derived from coming to peace with one's self, the other parent and the concept that, while there may have been terrible acts in the past, forgiveness will allow you to move forward as co-parents for life and ultimately provide the happiness you were searching for since once unified as parents and family.

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