Animating justice in our lives can come down to some basics. We’re not talking theory here, but about how, in a sense, to tune and retune ourselves as instruments of justice. Thanks to our brother Garrett for passing on some novel insights.
I recently read a story in Charles Duhigg’s new book The Power of Habit about an army major in the town of Kufa in Iraq. He had been conducting an impromptu habit modiﬁcation program. He had analyzed videotapes of recent riots and had identiﬁed a pattern: Violence often happened after a group of Iraqis convened in the town square. I imagine this would often happen after prayer on Fridays when they would have a lot of free time. As the crowd grew in size during the afternoon, food vendors would come to sell their wares. Then, angry chants would begin, followed by provocative actions, and finally a full scale riot would break out..
When the army major had a meeting with Kufa’s mayor, he only asked for one simple thing: Would they ask the food vendors to stay out of the town square? The mayor was equally interested in preventing riots and the subsequent violence and damage to the city, so he said “yes.” The next time that a crowd convened at the town square by the Great Mosque of Kufa, the habit modification program was on trial. During the afternoon, the crowd grew larger and larger. Angry chants began, the Iraqi police became nervous and let the army major know that trouble was brewing. As the afternoon wore on, people began to get hungry. Eventually the crowd dissipated because they were accustomed to having their shawarma or kebabs and had to go elsewhere to get it. People went to other parts of the city to get their food and never bothered to come back. By the evening, no one was left in the plaza.
People have a habit of eating at a certain time. If they are not able to get food at that time, they will alter their schedule to get it. As I consider this story, I think about my own habits. What I often realize is that I have to make justice a greater part of my habits. I have a habit of overlooking certain injustices and this becomes ingrained. This story taught me that we can alter patterns in our life, but we must be aware of them and desire change. Is justice a habit in our lives? The army major and mayor of Kufa wanted change and made small modifications, which led to big changes. I can also make small modifications to my own life that will lead to big changes if I think about how justice can be a greater part of my life. How will I spend some part of my week more focused on justice than I have previously been? How can I alter my previous way of doing business so that justice is more at the center of my life? I am sure that each of us have different answers to these questions, but we see the power of change from the above story. This story shows that we are unconscious of many of our habits, but if we make a conscious decision to alter our habits, it is possible. We can consciously choose to live lives that have more and more justice in them.