Crossing the Line: Competition & Justice

The two racers approached the line in a tight finish. They jostled for position, the racer in
green running just a small stride ahead of her competitor. But the trailing racer was
determined. She sized up both the finishing line and her opponent.

She shoved the green racer over, crossing the line first.

Her competitor slumped to the ground, inconsolable.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this incident occurred at the highest levels of sport
rather than at a primary level cross country event. The racers in question were just 11 years

We’ve all heard of white line fever right – that phenomenon where reasonable off field
personalities become win at all cost competitive monsters who steal the joy, and
sportsmanship, from the sport.

Were her actions unjust?

They were certainly unsportsmanlike.

Were they fair?

They were definitely ugly.

But were they just?

I don’t think so. But let’s look at what the virtue of justice actually is.

Earlier this month our VM team posted this definition of the virtue of justice:

Maintenance of what is just or right by the exercise of authority or power; assignment of deserved reward or punishment; giving of due deserts.

More simply, justice is fairness in the way people are dealt with.
Even this however, can be difficult to put into practice. Saint Josemaria cautions us to:
“Remember that justice does not consist exclusively in an exact respect for rights and duties,
as in the case of arithmetical problems that are solved simply by addition and subtraction.”
(Friends of God, #168)

Consider the famous equality/equity meme below.

At first glance we see that it is equal.

But, ask yourself, is it fair? If not, why not? Each of the three persons depicted in the first
frame have been given the same share, the same amount. And yet, it would appear that one
person is still disadvantaged.

In the next frame we see a more mutually beneficial arrangement. However, in order to
achieve this one has given up the right to their equal share and given it to another. This is a
more just arrangement, that is, each person has been treated fairly and can now watch the
baseball game without hindrance.

It is only fair though, because the person on the left relinquished his share for the benefit of
another. This, in my opinion, is the crux of justice. Treating everyone equally, though in
theory a noble idea, is not always the just way to go about things. It does, of course, prevent
the arguments that so-and-so got more than me, or more than they deserved. But it glosses
over the fact that our individual circumstances and situations are different, something a one
size fits all policy cannot sufficiently account for.

Justice then, is dealing fairly and equitably with others, but not always equally.
And it takes a lot of virtuous muscle to be able to treat others fairly when, at times, that same
justice requires a sacrifice on our part.

To conclude I’m quoting Professor Maximilian B. Torres, whom I have never encountered
before but whose words are more eloquent on this subject than my are: “Justice enables
people to give others what they deserve, and then more, disposing oneself to outstrip the
demands of justice in charity.”

VM Writer and Graphic Designer. Wife of one, mother of 8. Tackling growth in virtue one (baby) step at a time.

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