Albert Einstein noted, “Striving for social justice is the most valuable thing to do in life.”
This belief is echoed throughout democratic society. In 1968, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau of Canada articulated his vision for a just society, which became enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “The Just Society will be a united Canada, united because all of its citizens will be actively involved in the development of a country where equality of opportunity is ensured and individuals are permitted to fulfill themselves in the fashion they judge best.”
Americans also claim this ideal. The American Dream of a just society was crystallized in 1931 by James Truslow Adams in The American Epic to describe a society wherein everyone has the same opportunities to “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
I think that the majority of Canadians are being denied this right, as are the majority of Americans. For Americans, some of it may be due to Donald Trump and his administration, to whom the American Dream means an equal shot at wealth and material goods—an odd twist on the concept of “and justice for all.” But there’s far more to it than that.
In my book, From Bully to Bull’s Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I assert that bullying in the workplace is the biggest social and economic issue of our time and a barrier to a just society. Consider the continuum of bullying: shareholders bully the board of directors, who bully the CEO, who bullies the executive team, who bullies the managers, who bullies the workers, who go home and bully their families, and the kids take it school thereby creating a society of bullied bullies. In my view, these dynamics have flamed the fires of the social injustices we are witnessing in every segment of society today.
The workplace is where most of us spend the majority of our waking time, and, because the cultures in organizations are not just, a just society will continue to elude us. But that also presents a huge opportunity. Imagine if the majority of organizations enshrined a just society in their cultures. I believe if this happens, it will force social justice throughout society.
Social justice is every leader’s responsibility. As Matt Perman wrote in The True Meaning of Justice in the Workplace, “Justice most certainly includes fairness, truths and integrity and honesty and refusing to show partiality. But the essence of justice goes beyond that, the essence of justice is that those with greater authority and influence are to use their stronger positions in service of those who are in a weaker situation.”
In most instances, this requires some form of intervention, negotiation, mediation, and/or arbitration. Having been a labor negotiator for management, a mediator, and an arbitrator in numerous situations, I have a real appreciation for justice and the challenge in achieving settlements that are both just and fair. I greatly appreciate the distinction, because being fair is subjective and being just is objective.
A good example of this is the difference between mediation and arbitration. Mediation allows for discussion and an exchange of feelings and opinions, which in turn allows for flexibility and creating an atmosphere of collaboration to find a mutually agreeable resolution. Arbitration is restricted by laws and legal precedent, which as anyone who has ever been in a courtroom can tell you, can be objective and without bias but entirely unfair. Look no further than the judge refusing to allow testimony from Bill Cosby’s previous victims during his recent court case for an excellent example. As Oliver Wendell Holmes admonished to a novice attorney, “Young man, let me remind you that this is a court of law and not a court of justice.”
Another stumbling block to achieving a just solution is delay. In an 1869 speech, British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone observed, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” In spite of the fact that the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides the right to a speedy, public trial, deferred justice is a huge issue, especially in workplace dynamics as it relates to harassment and abuse. Consider the Fox News scandal, where abuse and harassment were an open secret for more than two decades, forcing victims to find work elsewhere, or even give up promising careers, to make it stop.
Our legal systems have also added to our inability to create a just society. This is a hard reality, and unless one has very deep pockets, and the perseverance to challenge the technical intricacies and defective tactics of the law, the injustice being challenged gets buried.
Being just isn’t only the responsibility of the courts. At the time of this writing, Donald Trump, after promising during his campaign to protect the rights of the LBGT community, banned transgender people from the military during one his Twitter outbursts. This is as huge an injustice as is his travel ban against Muslims. The fact that the Pentagon itself issued a press release stating that they don’t take their orders from social media is not enough to stem the tide of Trump’s mounting injustices. He must be stopped.
To achieve this, we’d be wise to reflect on Benjamin Franklin’s words, “Justice will not be served unless those of us who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Today, as with other times in history, the role of bystanders to injustice is critical. To ensure a just society all bystanders must become defenders, resisters, protectors and activists. Or to put it in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found against the wrong.”
Andrew Faas (www.andrewfaas.com) is an author, activist, revolutionist, philanthropist and management advisor promoting psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces. Before becoming a philanthropist, he led some of Canada’s largest corporations for over three decades as a senior executive. He founded the Faas Foundation, which supports non-profit organizations concerned with workplace well-being and other personal health and research endeavors. Currently he is partnering with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence on a groundbreaking initiative, Emotion Revolution in the Workplace, which will revolutionize the way organizations operate, leveraging the power of emotional intelligence; and Mental Health America, to help reduce unnecessary stress factors at work and eliminate stigma around a condition that affects one in five adults. His latest book “From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire,” reveals deep-seated dangers of bullying to everyone who works pinpointing the identifying characteristics of bullies and outlining how bullying undermines corporate profitability and value and how CEOs and boards can remedy it.