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  • Chris Byers, MA, LMHC

Honoring A King: Our Struggle Towards Justice Everywhere (Part II)

The Danger of Confusion

In Part II of this series Honoring A King: Our Struggle Towards Justice Everywhere, we define 4 essential ingredients of justice and identify the #1 root cause of injustice anywhere and everywhere. If we are truly to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must have the courage to see his audacious dream for America, and the world, fully actualized. For this to occur, it is imperative that we first clarify and normalize a more "just" definition of justice. Likewise, we must also begin to illuminate both the explicit and implicit roadblocks to justice for ALL.


In my work as a psychotherapist, I have discovered that the greater the distance between expectations and reality is often a nebulous space ripe for breeding disappointment, conflict, and confusion. Inspired by Donald Miller’s marketing mantra, I help my clients understand, “If you confuse, you’ll lose.” Half of the relational battle is won by clarifying healthier expectations for self and other, while also learning how to communicate more clearly and effectively. If we are going to put an end to losing the war against injustice anywhere and everywhere, we must seek to avoid the danger of the confusion trap by clarifying and integrating a healthier expectation and understanding of what justice actually means.


As previously mentioned, Dr. King has had a profound impact on my therapeutic orientation. On February 2nd, 2019, I began a year-long journey with Martin via many of his writings and sermons in search of a deeper understanding of the social justice icon. Considering all that was (and is) going on in the world, I yearned for a guide to light the path, help give me a plan, and call me to action. Out of that life-changing experience, his intersectional work helped inspire a deeper understanding and recipe for healthy justice and how to articulate it personally and professionally. Ultimately, I learned that healthy justice needs 4 essential ingredients to thrive: equality, equity, mutuality, and reciprocity.



For this recipe to have any hope of being normalized and integrated into our culture, it is critical to not only clearly define their definitions, but also differentiate them from one another. While they are frequently used, it seems these terms are often misunderstood, misinterpreted, and/or misused.

  1. Equality: the quality or state of being equal : the quality or state of having the same rights, social status, etc.

  2. Equity: the quality of being fair and impartial.

  3. Mutuality: the sharing of a feeling, action, or relationship between two or more parties.

  4. Reciprocity: a situation or relationship in which two people or groups agree to do something similar for each other, to allow each other to have the same rights, etc.

Of the four ingredients, I have found many people often confuse equality and equity. In search of a resource that clearly differentiates the two, I discovered an incredibly helpful and insightful publication from the Milken Institute School of Public Health. Not only does their article clarify the significant differences between equality and equity, but they also provide helpful illustrations that visually reflect what inequality, equality, equity, and justice looks like. For the sake of brevity, I have compiled those 4 separate illustrations into the one below. I encourage you to read the full article here.

Similarly, there is often confusion around mutuality and reciprocity. In the image above, let's call the person in red shorts Morgan and the person with blue shorts Kendall. Although there is a clear story depicted in the images, there is potentially another exemplary story of mutuality and reciprocity that could also be inferred. Let us assume Morgan and Kendall have a platonic relationship. "We need to collect food for our families, let us go over there and collect some apples together." Morgan and Kendall individually felt the need to provide for themselves and their own family. However, it would seem they both wanted something for their friend as well. Instead of going their separate ways in search for sustenance, they sought out a solution that would meet both of their needs.


While Morgan's foraging seemed easier at first, these two friends desired a fair and equitable solution for all. Noticing the struggle Kendall was initially having, the two friends collaborated and sought out the necessary materials and tools and then worked together to create a circumstance where they both could thrive. Because Morgan and Kendall saw one another as an equal, they created an equitable plan that required actionable mutuality and reciprocity, a willingness to give and receive. Therefore, might I suggest a new and improved definition. Justice: The intersection of equality, equity, mutuality, and reciprocity where all can thrive. Dr. King's voice still calls out reminding us, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” If mutual thriving is to be our collective destiny, we must learn to embrace this garment of justice and fight for it together.


Before I continue in this series, it is imperative to acknowledge that I emphatically believe there are well-established systems at the federal, state, and local levels in this country, and all around the world, that contribute to the perpetuation of injustices. Unfortunately, many of these systemic issues were confronted by Dr. King in his civil rights tenure. Beyond an understanding of injustice at these macro levels, my professional work gives me a courtside perspective into the myriad of insidious ways people experience injustice at the micro-personal-familial level. It is here that I have begun to identify and understand that SHAME is indeed the #1 root cause of injustice and the perpetuation of it. In Part III of this series, next week I will define shame and begin to unpack its undeniable connection to injustice anywhere and everywhere.



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