I don’t know where the age old concept of justice as “rewarding the right and punishing the wrong” came from, and I don’t know how the “rewarding the good” part seems to have been forgotten about altogether, leaving us with “punish the wrong” as the general mentality of our justice system and as many people’s concept of justice.
I have a different one: Justice is compassion. Humans, as well as all other forms of life, are, by their nature of being living things, worthy of respect and love and compassion. No matter what they’ve done. It doesn’t matter how heinous the crime, how vile the intent, how hurtful the result. All are equally deserving of love. All.
The idea that justice has been served when violence has been returned to its perpetrator (for example, though the death penalty, or even through a dehumanizing prison system), is so pervasive and yet counterintuitive when compared with what so many parents attempt to teach their children: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Parents who hit their children back are considered abusive, but social systems based on similar abuses persist.
Where, exactly, did we get the idea that when someone has caused harm, they are allowed to be harmed back? How does perpetuating the problem do anything at all to solve it? You cannot heal a hurt by causing a second hurt. That’s not how it works.
Only when we leave the cycle of violence behind altogether, in all aspects of life, will we be able to call ourselves “just.” I don’t profess to be perfect at this, and neither do I claim to be free of anger when someone hurts me. But I know that a hurt in response to a hurt solves nothing.