In her first book, When Justice Just Is, author and non-profit director Katie Bergman reflects on her geographically sprawling pilgrimage to pursue justice without being crushed by it. Driven by her personal experiences from Cambodian villages to Canadian inner-cities, from courthouses to street corners to orphanages, this book of confessions starts a dialogue about the trials and triumphs of seeking justice.
Katie’s personal narrative weaves in a sequence of coming-of-age stories capturing her journey of learning to grieve without despair, to dream without guilt, and to serve without defeat. She will warm and break your heart with profound stories of intervening in human trafficking in Southeast Asia, teaching children with special needs in rural Mexico, spending austere summers planting trees in the rugged wilderness of northern British Columbia, and backpacking through Eastern Europe in self-imposed solitude.
When Justice Just Is provides authentic insight, gripping challenges, and a global perspective of the joys and struggles of humanitarian work as the soul to a fresh conversation of learning to be kinder to the world while also being kinder to ourselves.
I’m tired of justice.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not justice itself that perturbs me; it’s how we’ve come to understand and politicize it.
In my own experiences of humanitarian service from Canadian inner-cities to Cambodian villages, from boardrooms and courthouses to street corners and orphanages, it seems we often contort justice to fit our own agendas. We define its dimensions according to our levels of commitment to it. We speak of it to flatter ourselves, inserting “justice issues” casually but strategically into conversations as if it gives us more buoyancy in the human struggle for worthiness. We glamorize what it means to be a humanitarian. We sensationalize justice without unpacking what it really means or looks like.
And I’m tired of it.
I’m not the only one who’s ready for a change. I’m just one of countless baffled and bruised seekers of justice who ache for solidarity and desperately hope the truth will humanize rather than vilify us.
We think it’s time to revolutionize our approaches, to pursue justice greatly but also sustainably, to work audaciously but wisely—not perfectly, not unrealistically, and certainly not on our own.
We’re ready to start a new conversation.
We’re ready to talk about the triumphs and trials. We’re ready to fill the gaps left by sensationalized stories and half-truths about the “adventures” and “rewards” of humanitarian work by also mobilizing honest discussions of its darkness, despair, and disillusionment. We’re ready to strip those badges of honour we’re supposed to carry, to adjust our expectations, to and admit our limits. We need to get real about the times our efforts to seek justice implode. It’s time to stop cultivating a culture of nobility and perfectionism, to stop breeding a disease of burnout in order to achieve our goal, and to start believing staff care is not only possible but necessary.
We’re ready to shift the conversation about changing the world toward how to change ourselves. Too often we try to solve the problems in other countries because we’re ashamed of the injustices permeating our borders. We try to fix the brokenness in other people because it’s easier than addressing the brokenness we conceal in ourselves. We’re ready to start identifying our need to be rescued and redeemed from our own pain and dysfunctions before trying to rescue and redeem others.
Because the truth is, pursuing justice doesn’t always give the personal return on investment we want. Sometimes we’re given suffering and scars that don’t always make sense—in the moment, or possibly ever. It’s especially in those eras of disillusionment that we need to permit the people who re-build our communities to embrace their humanity before heroism. We need justice workers who can serve lovingly, deeply, and empathetically, instead of breeding a generation of dehumanized humanitarians.