Justice versus Mercy – a clash of values

My message to those of you involved in this battle of brother against brother is this: take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea! Nelson Mandela.


I explained in my last post how I grapple with the concept of choosing between justice or mercy. While some situations are clearly one or the other, in most instances I struggle to choose, wanting to apply both.

Justice is fairness in that people get what they deserve, no more, no less. If someone works hard or behaves in a correct manner, they should be rewarded. The reward should match the actions. If someone does something wrong, they should be punished. The punishment should match the wrong-doing.

Mercy is forgiveness. It is often applied by someone with authority over another; for example a judge in a court of law, or an employer over an employee. Forgiveness or compassion can also be applied by a victim to their perpetrator.

It has been reasoned justice and mercy cannot be simultaneously applied or at least harmoniously practised because, if mercy or forgiveness is shown to someone who has done wrong, then justice has been denied to the victim.

(Note: For the purposes of this blog-post; I will put aside this concept in the area of criminal  justice, which is an entirely different aspect than issues I am confronted with.)

I constantly battle with the choice between justice and mercy; on social justice issues, in business and in my personal life. I believe in justice and fairness. I loathe seeing weaker or less fortunate people being taken advantage of by those of superior strength or position. I despise violence. I am intolerant of immoral or corrupt behaviour. I believe if you work hard, you should be rewarded for your effort. Yet…….. I am compassionate. I see the staff member with the disadvantaged background, I empathise with the person who tries hard yet cannot get it right, I feel the pain of the person who feels left out and thus behaves inappropriately.

I grapple with this choice between mercy or justice that seems impossible. Mercy invariably wins out, and I am gripped with the guilt of not being fair. I become a walkover in the way people treat me in order to get their own way. They know I will see their humanity. They know I will show compassion. They know I will care too much to allow them to suffer. They abuse that knowledge for their own means.

A personality test showed me as ‘INFJ’ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging). Apparently others of this type also battle with this; wanting fairness, yet feeling compassion for perpetrators of wrong-doing. Some famous people in this personality profile have struggled with this turmoil, such as Martin Luther King Jnr and Nelson Mandela. Reading that such exemplary figures have also struggled with this put my mind somewhat at ease. I am not alone. What become clear to me, as I read the biographies about them, is how they coped with their inner turmoil. They coped by standing up and speaking out for justice and fairness, never wavering on that issue. At the same time, however, they also preached non-violence and the letting-go of the desire for revenge on perpetrators.

There are others with different personalities who have also done so. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for example, struggled with this inner turmoil through South Africa’s apartheid years, and he is supposedly an extrovert. However, introverts struggle with both the turmoil of the clash of values and becoming outspoken about it.  Extroverts are more easily able to say what they think with confidence. Introverts want to hide away from attention and controversy. To read that some of those people who have battled this same inner turmoil and have become outspoken about it, are also quiet introspective people as I am, has both stunned and empowered me.

To learn they are/were introverts has stunned me. To know they found the courage to not only acknowledge this inner conflict but to also fight their own introversion in order to stand up for their belief in both sides of the coin, has empowered me. It means I can do that too.


Image courtesy:Freedigitalphotos.net[Kittisak]

Personality + Character + Circumstance + Attitude = ME

“Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia” (‘I am I, plus my circumstances’).
Jose Ortega y Casset. Spanish Philosopher


Following my last post on my ‘resources’, I planned in this post to list my innate strengths. What I thought would be a simple matter of looking up a little on personality, ended up with me bogged down researching the difference between personality and character. (I was to discover that spending time in research, reflection and over-analysis before starting on projects is a personality trait; and one that certainly is an attribute of mine! 🙂 )

What is the difference between personality and character?

Personality is our inherited make-up and nature, the image you project, how others perceive you and how you deal with others. We cannot change our basic personality yet aspects influence our needs; and hence our behaviour. Personality traits range from one extreme to another, examples being: extroverted/ introverted; talkative/ shy; hot-tempered/ calm; venturesome/ timid; cautious/ spontaneous. There is no right or wrong personality.

Character refers to the moral and ethical quality of a person; their inclination to do right. It is what is “deep inside”. Our character evolves over time as a combination of upbringing, education, beliefs and experience. Character is therefore malleable. We can work towards being a better character, towards higher principles. Character traits are positive (strengths) or negative (weaknesses). Examples of character strengths include honesty, fairness, kindness, courage and temperance.

Individuality The complex of what makes a person is personality, character and behaviour influenced by circumstances, what fate blows your way. Your cultural, socioeconomic and personal situation can have a bearing on the complete person that comprises ‘you’.

Who Am I

I have written on what I consider are my values (character strengths). I strive to show compassion, empathy, dependability, trustworthiness, and integrity.

I also wrote about my personality trait of introversion. When I set out to expand on that by doing an on-line personality test, it included questions I felt are part of character, not personality. Specifically one question “would you choose justice over mercy” annoyed me. I did not believe I could give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. I was pleased to come across a test version offering a sliding scale allowing me to sit on the fence for that question. (Why this question rankled with me I will write about in another post).

The test score showed my personality as being ‘INFJ’ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging). I am decisively introverted and intuitive, more borderline between feeling  / thinking; and judging / prospective. So while I am rational (thinking); I am also sensitive, striving for harmony and co-operation (feeling); with ‘feeling’ nudging ahead of ‘thinking’. I am open-minded and relaxed (prospecting); but my ‘judging’ side wins over with commitment, seeking closure, and decisiveness. (If you can count ‘decisiveness’ as making firm decisions after much research and long-winded weighing up of options! 🙂 ) 

I used to feel dragged down by my reserved nature. I am not that outgoing person who everyone instantly warms to and admires. Now, I think differently. My quietness allows me to be an easy listener and be more empathetic, showing kindness to others. Likewise although I am not the spontaneous ‘fun’ seeking reveler, my even-temper creates calm and harmony in family and social situations which is a positive thing. I am able to use the ‘limitations’ of my personality as strengths to enhance my character and social interactions.

To balance off who I am leaves circumstances; a blended mixture of upbringing where strong family values were instilled; my nationality and culture of being Australian from British forebears; my age and being a woman, neither of which I can change; my talents, skills, education; my history of marriage and motherhood; and my fate. Some are favourable (being Australian from a good family); some not-so favourable (divorce).

I believe by accepting my personality, being tolerant of others, building on my character strengths, and taking control of my life with appropriate attitudes (courage, optimism, tenacity, resilience, humility) to each circumstance – whatever that might be – are deciding factors in being ‘me’. Choosing my attitude and driving my destiny – because of my circumstance rather than despite my circumstance – have made me who I am today.

Image courtesy: Freedigitalphotos.net [StuartMiles]

My resources for pursuing my purpose

The purpose of our lives is to be happy. Dalai Lama, Tibetan Leader.


Having determined my purpose in life is “living to my highest self and inspire others to do the same”; and in considering how I may go about doing that; I found myself in a quandary when I came across the above quote. I thought I was supposed to find purpose and meaning in my life, then I would become happy. Now I read that I am supposed to find happiness; and then that will become my purpose. I became confused.

Here are another three quotes that added to my confusion:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The purpose of life is a life of purpose” Richard Leider

“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it”
Gautama Buddha

So in moving on, I had been wading through trying to work out my life’s goals and aims in order to fulfill my purpose and this had been proving a bit difficult when I became unsure as to whether I should be aiming for happiness or purpose.  (Message to self: it is far better to be confused about whether to pursue a life of happiness or a life of purpose than to be stuck back in pain, anger, despair, fear and turmoil.)

Then I came across this quote:

“Accept yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses, your truths, and know what tools you have to fulfill your purpose.”  Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Aah! Light-bulb moment. I think I will start from there – my resources. If I look at what I already have to work with, it may become easier to find out where I need to go.

My 35 years business experience has taught me that, whenever you begin a new project, you should always firstly look at your resources – in business that is infrastructure, money, and human resources. The next steps are to look at what resources are missing, fill in the gaps, then march on to completing the project. The initial step, however, is always looking at your resources; look at your starting point.

In my life’s direction it is a little bit back to front because I am not sure of my actual project and therefore my goals. However, I thought there would be no harm at looking at the starting point – at what I already have to work with.

This post is therefore outlining my new beginning, a first draft appraisal of listing what resources I already have. Later I will explore these in more depth and then move on to my goals. The first 8 in my resources list are my strengths. The last 2 are the people and the tangible resources I have in my life. The beauty of looking at all this from the point of view of my “resources” or the things that I have, is that it makes me focus on my strengths and my positive attributes and the people and tangible assets I already have in my life. This is a fantastic strategy of moving away from that dark place of grief and despair where I was focussing on my losses, my weaknesses and being negative towards myself….

In listing my resources, I have realised that I have got more to work with than I had previously thought.

Here is my list. .

My Resources For Pursuing My Purpose

  1. Character strengths
  2. Personality strengths
  3. Attitude strengths
  4. Talents
  5. Skills
  6. Education
  7. Knowledge
  8. Experience
  9. Support
  10. Security

Onwards and upwards to my new life with enthusiasm and vigour 🙂


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