This is a story we use when we teach the Class of Nonviolence (as do many other social justice groups):
One summer in the village, the people gathered for a picnic. As they shared food and conversation, someone noticed a baby in the river, struggling and crying. The baby was going to drown!
Someone rushed to save the baby. Then, they noticed another screaming baby in the river, and they pulled that baby out. Soon, more babies were seen drowning in the river, and the townspeople were pulling them out as fast as they could. It took great effort, and they began to organize their activities in order to save the babies as they came down the river. As everyone else was busy in the rescue efforts to save the babies, two of the townspeople started to run away along the shore of the river.
“Where are you going?” shouted one of the rescuers. “We need you here to help us save these babies!”
“We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!”
Pulling the babies out of the river is an act of Charity (or call it mercy or philanthropy) and it MUST be done, most people of goodwill will agree. This is also an expression of compassion that can give the giver great satisfaction. She can see the results — babies saved, fed, diapered, hugged, found loving homes. The results can be measured: we saved ten today.
Going up river to see who is throwing babies in the river is an act of justice — compassion — and is also necessary, but it involves often controversial political action that does not provide the same warm fuzzies as the hands-on work of saving babies.
Perhaps Dom Helder Camara, an Archbishop in Brazil (1964-1985) put it best:
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
Justice is less about sharing resources and helping than it is about restoring the balance in the world. Justice is about empowerment. Justice is about transformation. And justice, like Charity MUST be done.