(Palestinian children stand on the rubble of their home. Their reaction? Peace signs. PC Mulch Stetson)
Unfairness will confront each of us in life’s story at some point. Some care more about it than others. I’m one of those ones that care.
I’ve always had a strong sense of needing things to be fair–of course, often in my own favor. Isn’t that how we often tend to be? Only protesting injustice when we’re the ones being slighted?
I SWEAR SHE’S LIED.
“Have you lied before?” After asking a classic Sunday school question, the teacher looked around her class of first graders to see the response. My conscience didn’t stand a chance, though I loved being the good kid. I nodded my head, along with the rest of my class–well, except one girl. She grinned and loudly exclaimed “I have NEVER lied!” Oh, the anger. You see, we had a history, and I could without a doubt confirm this girl was a liar.
I rose my hand and wildly waved it in the air, but didn’t give the teacher a chance to call on me. “That’s NOT true! She has lied! She has lied to me! That is not true!” My classmate shook her head in disagreement and reaffirmed that in fact, she had never lied before. My eyes wide and my frustration mounting, I looked to the teacher for some vindication, a glimmer of understanding and justification that indeed, this girl was actually lying right now, so her statement was false. Instead, the teacher calmly stated, “Wow, well that’s great you’ve never lied! And it’s okay, Bethany, if she says she hasn’t lied, then we have to believe her.” She seamlessly moved on to her lesson, ignoring (for better or worse) what to my first-grade brain was a horrible injustice. If we could ALL lie about our lying and not get in trouble, then why did I have to admit that I made mistakes too?!
Of course, that’s a silly anecdote for much larger issues that face us in this world. If you’re a lady like me, you probably know far too well the hot flush of a catcall or the cold shiver of unwelcome hands. Maybe someone doesn’t like the color of your skin, the shape of your nose, the religion you belong to–so they overlook you, they mock you, they mistreat you. They may even kill you.
These moments of unfairness shape us and teach us how to orient ourselves in the world.
Often, our response to injustice is the same as was mine on that sunny morning in Sunday school; anger and immediate protest. (Facebook has become an unproductive platform for this flavor of frustration). When we feel the slight, we witness the unwarranted evil, our reaction is often an unproductive flurry of righteous indignation and whatever other expressions of our anger that manage to come out. We fight back.
THE STORY OF ESTHER
Queen Vashti, the wife of Persian King Ahasuerus, lived in an unfair world–though herself quite privileged above the rest of society. Still, even in her wealth, was it truly an honor to be the trophy of a man, ready to be displayed in splendor at his beck and call?
I’d probably resist too: She didn’t go when the king asked her to come, a scandalous decision of defiance. Was the resistance worth it?
We can’t know her motives, other than to make such a decision took a lot of guts. And though we also can’t assume this was her goal, Queen Vashti’s resistance wasn’t effective for greater emancipation for the female sex. No, on the contrary, to reinforce the roles that society had created for women, the king’s advisors urged him to banish Vashti from his presence forever as an example of power and the results of resistance, to which he eagerly obliged.
It makes you think: were there other paths, more productive forms of resistance, that Queen Vashti could have chosen?
Esther operated differently. She too was subjected to the same female fetishization; rounded up like cattle alongside dozens of other young virgins to undergo a process of beautification, all for the pleasure of King Ahasuerus. She submitted herself to it. She listened to the advice of the servant Hegai, and the king liked her. He liked her so much that he made her queen.
Now Queen Esther, in the same place of Queen Vashti–a trophy, a display of King Ahasuerus’ splendor and might. She came when she was called. She stayed put when she was not.
But, for such a time as this, Esther found herself witnessing the threat of genocide. An evil man without any justification decided her people deserved death, and convinced the king to issue an edict to carry out their murder. Queen Esther was given a choice; would she resist or submit?
Esther could have reacted in hasty defiance like Queen Vashti, angered the King, and lost any chance of saving her people. Instead, she resisted in a way that transformed the King’s heart, saved her people, and brought to justice the man who had sought to kill the innocent.
WHAT ABOUT US?
We all face a choice in the face of the unfair events that play out around us; will we resist foolishly or resist in wisdom? Will we react out of emotion or will we act in ways that bring about transformation?
An angry rant or action may feel good in the moment, but it does nothing to further productive conversation. We are much more capable of honest, transformative resistance than we think; it just requires a little more effort and self-control.
Let’s resist the deprivation of rights, the abuse of the innocent, the marauding mockery of the oppressor–let’s resist with everything in us! But instead of hastiness, angst, fruitless discussion, violence, why don’t we try to be a little more creative, more intentional in our reactions to the unfairness we will inevitably suffer and witness in the world–maybe for such a time as this.