Conflict resolutionMediation

Justice or Peace?

By March 20, 2018 No Comments

We all want peace and we all want Justice; but these two ideals cannot co-exist. This is true both in our interpersonal relationships as well as in the broader political environment.

Justice is the pursuit of fairness. People who have experienced mistreatment feel a justifiable need to be compensated and for the perpetrators to be accountable. Injustice is intolerable; it boils our blood and demands we take action to return a just equilibrium to the world.

The definition of justice, broadly speaking, remains a relative term; even perpetrators of heinous crimes considered themselves just. Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot all strove for their version of justice. Justice is a system of “might is right”, the ruling party determining what is considered just at a certain point in time.

The pursuit of justice may seek to bring about a state of moral equilibrium, in reality it only shifts the scales towards the other direction. A judge’s ruling is never received with mutual acceptance on the part of the plaintiff and the defendant, there is always a loser. Implementing justice will lead to a new counter call for a new justice. Both victims and perpetrators demand justice.

Peace, on the other hand, can be minimally defined as the cessation of hostilities or alternatively as an embracing sense of cooperation and connection.  We tend to hope for the later, but often only the former is possible. Whatever the peace we envisage, we often ignore the necessary sacrifices needed to make that vision a reality, especially the need to relinquish the desire for justice.

Justice is the necessary casualty in securing peaceful relationships.

For peace to be achieved we need to reframe the discussion from debating who is right, to what do we need to do for peace. It becomes a conversation about peace instead of, and in place of, justice.

Peace focuses on the future, justice focuses on the past. Peace is about reconciliation, War is about justice. We pick up arms to fight for justice; we put down arms to create peace.

The peace maker does not demand compromise and concessions from those opposite; on the contrary they come to the negotiating table with a mandate to concede. Their strength lies in being capable of focussing on the big picture and not getting bogged down in the short term gains of making the deal. The mindset of the peacemaker isn’t how to win, rather it is everyone wins or everybody loses.

Injustices will need to be forgiven and grievances forgotten, by both sides. Referencing the history of a conflict can be beneficial only when it has a constructive purpose, although it is often used as an anchor for victimhood.

Interpersonal conflicts follow the identical model; our need to be right can cost us our jobs, our marriage and our happiness.  We often keep tabs on how much we have done for the other party and use it as ammunition against them. The very people who should be our “partners”, become the victims in our pursuit of justice.


Instinctually we want justice; we want to be right and we want to punish those that are wrong. Instinct doesn’t always work for our benefit. It becomes a question of maturity; can we contextualise the long term benefits of achieving peace over the short term victory of being right?

The paradigm needs to shift from seeing peace as the adherence to my values, to one of adherence to the value of peace in spite of my values.


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