Justice Comes ONLY When Values Become Virtues

Justice Comes ONLY When Values Become Virtues


Our world needs healing – not only from a pandemic, but from division, injustice, and brokenness in human relationships. When our collective behavior is fueled by contempt, disdain, and hatred for our fellow human beings, we should not be surprised to see our culture being swept up in catalytic shockwaves of partisan rhetoric and violence.

The problem is that the more concerned we have become in being right than in being loving, we ourselves, our strident attitudes and behaviors, have become the fuel that ignites the fires of the divisions we decry. At the end of the day, what if the mess we find ourselves in cannot be fixed politically or economically? What if what we are experiencing is the result of a crisis of values and virtues that every human being, in their own way, must come to terms with?

Our starting point is to understand the distinction between values and virtues. Values are aspirational expectations. They are ideals or goals that individuals, groups, or even nations espouse, but do not always, and sometimes seldom achieve. Virtues, on the other hand, are those principles, goals, or aspirations that have been achieved and can be observed and experienced in the here and now. Values are in principle, while virtues are conformity with the principle. In the language of servant leadership, virtues form when our values become operative – reliable dispositions and behaviors that are activated in the way we live.

If I say that I am committed to the value of “justice for all,” then to hurl hateful speech at those I disagree with or behave in ways that separate people into unjust classes or hierarchies, means justice isn’t really my value. For a value to be true, I must be striving to make it a virtue – an ethical action that is demonstrated through right conduct, moral excellence, and striving to live a good life that honors all. Justice for all is an empty sentiment without an ongoing effort and commitment to treat others with respect and dignity.

We are vastly different as people. We have diverse views, come from different backgrounds and socio-economic classes, and have different lenses on the world based on how are lives have been impacted for good or ill based on systems that are imperfect and broken. As a person, a follower, or a leader, I cannot speak for others. One thing I can do, however, is to take stock of my life at this troubling time in human history, and ask, “What are my values?” “Am I living in a way that demonstrates what I say is important – treating others with respect and dignity?” I believe now is the time for some serious soul-searching. Our lives and the lives of our fellow human beings depend on it.

Ritch Hochstetler, President and CEO at ULEAD

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