It is difficult to find anyone who is unconcerned with justice. The issue is, sometimes our sense of justice comes in conflict with someone else’s justice. The task of uncovering the assumed universal justice we all seek is the struggle of human existence, yet this universal justice slips through our fingers or remains out of reach. The attempt toward justice has a way of curving towards our sense of the world, our vantage point. This means our serious pursuit of justice puts us at odds with the other.
A quick look at your favorite social network or news program lets you in on the differing ideals of justice. Everything from the Syrian situation to health care, to minimum wage to taxation can lean towards a claim about justice. The perspective from either side of the issue is that the other side’s claim makes has no merit. The world seems obvious to us, the problem is it often does not bend completely as we would like.
In Exclusion and Embrace Volf argues, enmity or violence do not have to be the result of our differing views of justice. There is a project we can pursue that can give space for the other. This project he calls a will to embrace. At the heart of a will to embrace is something he calls double vision. It is the practice of learning to see everything both from your viewpoint and the viewpoint of the other. This practice demands a particular kind attentiveness, an attentiveness open to wisdom of the other.
Sociologist Clifford Geertz says,
“To discover who people think they are, what they think they are doing, and to what end they think they are doing it, it is necessary to gain a working familiarity with the frames of meaning within which they enact their lives. This does not involve feeling someone else’s feelings, or thinking anyone else’s thoughts, simple impossibilities. Nor does it involve going native, an impractical idea, inevitability bogus. It involves learning how, as being from elsewhere with a world of one’s own, to live with them.”
The last few words are huge. We have to “live with them.” The preposition “with” calls for a different posture than we often give neighbors and strangers. Our individuality has taught us to tolerate the other when necessary, but to live with another is to be attentive to the depth of their humanity. A “with” life forces our guard down and demands we are vulnerable. This is the kind of practice that can allow us to live in a world with conflicting justices. It does not mean we throw up our hands and give into everything, yet it does mean we hold our beliefs with humility.
The wisdom of the stranger invites us to a larger story, a communal consciousness where our horizon of understanding offered a new plain of understanding in the space where our horizons meet.
A little over a year ago, I met Ann Atwater. She lives in Durham, North Carolina where she continues to fight for the cause of others. Annie was a key leader in the movement to integrate the schools in the Raleigh/ Durham area. She set out to change the schools but was met with resistance from the Superintendent who was a white man. At first, her dislike and distrust for her counter-part ran deep, but over time they began to learn from each. These enemies turned partners and friends noticed if they expected their children to welcome the other they better do so as well. Their unlikely relationship created space for them to work for justice together. Together Ann and the superintendent, C.P. Ellis worked to lead a community to accept integrated schools during the height of the civil rights movement.
I sat in Ann’s living room a year and a half ago as she told her story. I got to witness her speak with such care about her one time rival. These are the stories that can happen when there is a will to embrace the other. Something happens when people interact with one another. When we are willing to begin to see the other as a co-journeyer.
The others in our lives, strangers and neighbors, offer us a great wisdom. Even though they might seem like the enemy or polar opposite, they might be your co-workers toward justice. Their experience or insight might change everything for you. Learning to live “with” others will open you up to a new world, a world where we are able to see far beyond the vista of individualism.