In a conflict, human responses range along a continuum, lurching through the stages of grief. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying” described the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Justice is  Blind

When parties are hurt in a conflict, many seek revenge. That hot, fiery desire to inflict the same level of pain on the offending party, which they have inflicted upon us.

The processes of conflict resolution, mediation, negotiation and even litigation, seek to insert a third-party (sometimes another person, sometimes an organization) between each party. And, at the furthest end, transformative processes (and psychotherapy processes) seek to insert a third-party between each party and themselves.

Hurt parties seek justice through formalized litigation processes—but if we are being honest in this space (and we often tell workshop groups that we deal in truth), we must acknowledge that wounded parties seek a reckoning, with the outcome in their favor.

With this acknowledgement and understanding, it is important to note that revenge comes to the forefront and begins to poison even the most neutral of processes. Revenge disturbs parties in conflict, because culturally, we have been taught to abdicate our tribal rights to revenge to the state (in the form of mediation, litigation, etc.) in exchange for material safety and security.

True justice, Biblical justice, however, is really about forgiveness. Forgiving the other person requires each party to do three things; all of which can seem impossible when parties are in the throes of the five stages of grief:

  • Recognize and acknowledge anger, but do not become swept up by the emotional flooding that results. The corollary to this is to avoid the emotional toxicity of the other party’s anger in a conflict.
  • Control and manage the tongue. More and more research proves the psychological power of human storytelling. Gossip, rumors, innuendos, tales, and other forms of telling the conflict story repeatedly, add to the emotional and psychological detritus that piles up around the conflict, further confusing the pursuit of justice as forgiveness.
  • Realize that forgiveness is about justice for you as a party in conflict, not a panacea for the other person. There’s a lot of confusion in beliefs around justice and forgiveness. Consequences to actions can be legal, moral, ethical, and behavioral and come in other ways. But when we forgive as an act of justice, we release the agency of committing those acts to others in authority, rather than taking the authority (and it’s consequences), on ourselves.

Parties who have been wounded in conflict have a right to be angry, to be afraid, and a right to disengage for their own psychological and emotional protection. They do not have a right to inflict more pain, or to escalate the conflict under the pretext of pursuing justice, when in reality they seek revenge.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: hsconsultingandtraining@gmail.com
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