When mercy and justice compete
RECENTLY, I was told that when I get behind the wheel, I become a person unrecognisable. “I fear for my life!” a friend said, “And you justify yourself when you are clearly in the wrong!” I pooh-poohed and said that it usually is my right of way. His eyes just grew a little bigger.
It is funny how and when the penny drops. Watching the local production of The Merchant of Venice by our local troop Shakespeare Demystified, Portia’s famous speech in Act IV moved me to reflect. She says, “Though justice be thy plea, consider this: that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation. We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”
In context for me, even though it is my right of way, defensive driving would be kind of “mercy rendered” unto other motorists. So, like a good yoga practitioner, I have been curbing my innate sense of “justice”. Funnily enough, it is not just that I render mercy. That actually sounds patronising. I am attempting to stop being such a stubborn driver because, as Portia says, “It (the giving of mercy) is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” I do it for myself too.
In a larger context, I wonder in our modern system of living and governance, how often does mercy and justice fight for prevalence, and which actually takes precedence in reality. Some might say neither, as the rich continue to get richer, the poor continue to get poorer, and injustices abound.
A simple example is the devastation caused to the environment and sometimes also the loss of residents when new developments and highways take place. For example, let’s take a look at the orang asli and loggers standoff in Gua Musang. One assumes that the logging companies have a valid contract for their activities, so their insistence of enforcement of the contract is justice. But the land is understood to belong to the Temiar, the native Malaysians who live in that forest. In such a case, should there not be mercy?
Once upon a time, my sister-in-law told me that companies have no conscience. They aren’t living breathing conscious beings. Her pragmatism in the face of my romantic ideals made an impression on me and I still remember it to this day. Yet, a company is run by human beings. The cells of a company are people. Do people have no conscience then?
That moment while watching the Merchant of Venice has been helpful these past few days. Looking at news and incidents and discerning mercy and justice. For example, the couple who harassed the meter maid for giving them a ticket, so I guess the latter didn’t show any mercy. But then the couple didn’t show any mercy to her either, considering she was doing their job. The tide of justice prevailed over them.
Sometimes, mercy and justice come hand in hand. We can see this perhaps in the violence taking place in Myanmar towards its ethnic minority, the Rohingyas. The violence was apparently sparked by armed civilians attacking police and armed personnel, according to the state media. In retaliation, deaths and injuries including to infants and children have taken place, as well as displacement of tens of thousands of people across the three states, according to the UN.
This seems a lot like Shylock’s speech in Shakespeare’s play: “And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”
And that is the sad state of the world. People are so hellbent on exacting justice that mercy is overshadowed. Ironically, it is Shylock who says the most poignant thing that I can think of in defence of the Rohingyas: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”
Daniel freelances in writing and fitness training. Comments: letters@thesundaily. com
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