Towards a truly just society: reconciliation, not provocation

Matthew Metz, Staff Writer

Outspoken racial reconciliation activist David Bailey recently spoke in chapel about the importance of reconciliation in achieving justice, defined as right relationship between everything, and rendering everything its due. By right relationship, I mean relating in a way that honors and respects the other as their dignity deserves. Simultaneously, I see many who say they advance justice in its various forms, but use provocative tactics to gain followers or further their causes. I argue that provocative actions hinder the cause of justice, while acts of reconciliation further justice by fostering right relationships. 

Dictionary.com defines provocation as “anything that incites, instigates, angers, or irritates.” It is a negative force that draws lines and makes people take sides; in essence, it polarizes people. Polarization compounds on itself, echo-chambering as increasingly radical provocateurs rile up as many people as they can. When people are polarized, they are rarely, if ever, in right relationship with each other. That is to say, there is injustice.

Reconciliation is the opposite. To reconcile, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “to bring into … harmony.” It doesn’t imply that everyone necessarily agrees on everything, or is the same. Reconciliation presupposes building a right relationship in light of some kind of difference. It implies diversity, whether of background, culture or ethnicity, or thought. It doesn’t deny difference, rather honoring it, using the unique perspectives different people bring to edify everyone involved. It brings people into right relationship; it is justice manifested.

The implications for socio-politics are obvious, but worth noting. Modern-day politics is self interested and destructive, where partisans provoke each other, tearing each other down in a feedback loop. A justice-based politic is needed, where those in power seek to build up relationships and networks of reconciliation, which would lead to consensus and decisive action.

Additionally, social justice movements between people groups should fully adopt a reconciliation-based approach. While previous injustices should not be ignored, there is no place for ethnic nationalism. It ignores the myriad of cultural and motivational nuances, excluding potentially like-minded people on the basis of appearance. Such “in-group, out-group” psychology and retributive action will not break the cycle of injustice, but instead perpetuate it further. Turning the wheel of social injustice, whether ethnocultural, socio-political/economic, religious, gendered, or more, will not suffice. Only breaking the wheel will do. 

Reconciliation is the way to achieve this. By building relationships at the individual and corporate level, people get to know each other, seeing the common humanity that presupposes every other aspect of identity. On this foundation, a truly just society that empowers everyone to showcase their strengths and address their weaknesses can flourish. While provocation inflames conflict that tears down, reconciliation builds up peace that empowers. This is the way to effective and mutual reconciliation, now walk in it.