Justification in Action

Picture two people: Tam and Fam, who live together.
Fam borrows a DVD from Tam with the understanding that he will bring it back after the movie finishes two hours later. However, some unexpected guests arrive and Fam has only just restarted the movie when Tam comes in and demands his DVD back. He reminds Fam of their agreement and time is up; a deal is a deal. Fam responds by saying that isn’t fair, because Tam promised he could see the movie.
For Fam, the deal had to do with seeing the movie and the promise made (the value of the agreement). Tam doesn’t really need the movie back right away, but he considers the principle of the agreement, which had to do with the time, so he takes his DVD back, at which Fam gets upset. Tam gets irritated with this display of emotion. He swears it won’t do any good to make him change his mind and walks away.
A second problem now exists: that of feeling betrayed. Fam shouts and accuses Tam of being a selfish liar and indulges in his misery, because he feels that the promise has been broken.
In the meantime, Tam analyzes the problem and resolves that, indeed, he may have been a little harsh and goes back to say sorry and that Fam can finish watching it. He may expect an apology for being called a liar, but that doesn’t happen. Fam explodes in even greater fury and declares Tam really mean for coming back and restarting the quarrel.
Tam walks out and slams the door, not understanding this and returns to his room. However, he can’t settle down. He feels miserable because the problem hasn’t been resolved. So, after a while he returns with the intention of “talking it out”. He apologizes once again, but now Fam loses all control and screams and yells, saying he wasn’t wanted anyway and he may as well be gone for good, because that would make everybody happy and nothing will ever be right again…

Okay, what happened?
The initial quarrel is simple and could have been resolved if Fam had explained about the visitors or if Tam had allowed a bit more time, but they didn’t. They each assumed that their own reasoning (the principle agreement versus the value agreement) was self-evident. Then Tam analyzed the problem and aimed to fix it. To him this was a situation of cause and effect: The problem caused the emotional upset, so by fixing the problem, the emotion would also be fixed. So he returned to Fam with a ‘report’ of this analysis and said sorry.
But Fam wasn’t considering the problem of the movie any longer. His emotional problem was that of feeling betrayed. The emotion needed fixing and being allowed to watch the DVD or a simple apology wasn’t enough; he wanted his feelings acknowledged with a gift, a hug, or even a joke, but not with a cold analysis. For Fam, fixing the problem does not equal fixing the emotion. So Tam coming back to talk about it inflamed the problem rather than dousing it. Logic is eliminative, but feelings are accumulative; they pile on top of each other (like embers, which then ignite), so Tam was carrying fuel to the fire. Had the situation been reversed, Fam would have brought Tam some flowers or made him his favourite drink, which would have infuriated Tam, who would have felt bribed by this attempt to avoid talking it out.
Tam needed to solve the problem, but Fam needed the harmony restored. Keep in mind that both used a form of justifiable rationale, but one was analytic, breaking the issue down into components so as to fix the broken piece, while the other was synthetic and meant to glue the broken pieces into a new whole. See it as a ribbon in which a quarrel is a knot; Tam wanted to untie it (cold fixing), but Fam preferred to make it into a bow so everybody could feel happy again (warm fixing). Remember also that Tam felt just as miserable about the whole thing and that not every F would so openly express his hurt.
Now, one such incident won’t affect a relationship, but what if they happened over and over again?
A similar confusion is at play in our legal system. One half of the population will reason that objectivity and principles are a fair basis for the passing of sentences. Thus, the visitors were irrelevant and Fam should be accused of the ‘crime’ of not returning the DVD. The other half will consider motive and circumstance and will never be able to consider it fair justice if a sentence is passed on facts alone. There is no easy answer to this. Neither is right or wrong, but each will consider his own view correct and thus ‘feel’ injustice. (Concerto for Mankind)

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s