True peace can not and will not happen without justice.”

Those words are not poetry. They are stark, blunt fact. If life were a game, war would mean someone has been playing it unfairly and is being called on the act – and peace pays the price. But life is not a game, and justice is not a palm-sized book of black-and-white rules that keeps the world’s peoples honest.

The concept of peace can seduce the dreamer in all of us. Justice, on the other hand, with sleeves rolled up, hard-muscled and demanding, challenges the best in all of us. Peace seems larger than reality while justice wants to define reality as more a function of reason.

There are multiple theories of justice, from Plato and Aristotle to John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and John Stuart Mill; theories that attribute justice to a higher power, to authority, to a person’s inherent nature, to human inventiveness and whatever produces good results, etc. Ethicists and religious moralists often seem to have a narrow, rigid and measurable sense of justice.

If justice were a feeling, it would be tempting to adapt Justice Potter Stewart’s gauge for pornography to determine what is just: “I know it when I feel it.” But justice is more, far more, than just a feeling. Fairness, often equated with justice, can be a feeling, but justice needs to be reason-able, that is, it needs to be flexible, negotiable and shared, since justice always involves more than one.

True justice cannot afford to be an ideal; if so, it, like the concept of peace, becomes poetry. Neither justice nor any of us should tolerate that. Pragmatically speaking, justice, to become a reality, requires hard work and not ethereal thinking. It needs to recognize and respect the differences among nations, cultures and individuals. Only by understanding and accepting those differences, not tolerating or accommodating them or, worse, obliterating them, can justice be rightly served.

Everyone’s life overflows with examples of injustice, of both acting and being treated unreasonably. Those examples define what we still need to learn about how life is meant to be. They are the coal mine we need to work if we ever want to enjoy the candy store. The best in all of us deserves knowing peace but it is the best as well that has to work for justice.