The other day my wife and I were riding somewhere and talking about the recent road widening work that was being done. I commented about all the property owners whose land was adjacent to where the road needed to be widened. I’m sure they were compensated for the portion of their property claimed by the local government as necessary for the road widening project. But what if those property owners didn’t want to sell? What if they felt for whatever reason, the price they were given for their land was not “fair”?
This led me down the path of thinking about how most all progress requires some form of sacrifice. The road to progress is often paved with injustice. In the quest to move forward, injustice occurs. As a nation, we celebrate the beauty of our land, but what we now take for granted, what we now enjoy so freely, came at a price, a cost to someone. While society may have benefited from America’s westward expansion, I’m sure along the way; lives were lost or damaged. I’m sure that our national and cultural path towards progress is littered with lots of travesty, hurt, inequities and injustice. If we insisted that everything in life be “fair,” be considerate, be equitable, I suspect we would not progress very far.
I recently watched a series called The Men Who Built America. This series, now available on DVD, tells the story of early American pioneers such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, J.P, Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. It reveals how their determination, vision, drive, and foresight helped make America the great nation it is today. But their actions were not always considerate. Inequities and injustice sometimes occurred in order to get something done.
All of us enjoy better lives because of the progress those men brought to this country…but as the series reveals, they did not do things nicely, evenly, or fairly. There were tough-minded, even ruthless decisions that needed to be made for progress to be made, to press forward.
Am I condoning being ruthless? Not at all. But in life, we will face injustice. We all want to get along and enjoy a peaceful environment. But progress is disruptive and seldom peaceful. Often what it takes to break the status quo and move things forward requires pain, sacrifice, and, yes, sometimes injustice. Sometimes the injustice rises to a level that is no longer tolerable. We rise up. Something has to be done. But in this imperfect world in which we live, I suspect there is a tolerable level of injustice that we have to work through and work with to progress.
So how can you teach your children and train your teams to recognize injustice, fight to resolve it, and at the same time, recognize that a certain level of injustice may be inevitable? We have to learn how to navigate it while not condoning it and be empathetic towards those who suffer. Let’s learn how to thrive in the midst of injustice and learn when the level of injustice is no longer worth the benefit it may bring. When is injustice tolerable? Maybe never…but I suspect in this life we will all do well to learn how to deal with it and learn to minimize it.