In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik published an article about the large prison population in the United States as evidence of the American justice system’s failure. “How did we get here?” Gopnik asked. Referring to The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by the late William J. Stuntz, a Harvard Law professor, Gopnik wrote that attempts to control crime in the 19th century apparently set us on a course to replace local, democratic control with a centralized system that emphasized procedures rather than principles, such as equity. 

I wondered if we humans tend to put procedures over principles especially in times of fear and insecurity. Perhaps a busy, procedural checklist seems safer, more productive even more effective in the short-term. But at what cost if we do not constantly ask if our rules and actions truthfully reflect our values? What are these principles?

 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
-Micah 6:8

Justice, Kindness, Humility. According to the notes in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, justice means both fairness and equity in all social relationships. Kindness refers to mercy, loyalty and integrity in responsibly fulfilling one’s social obligations. I think that humbly walking with God describes the fundamental mindset, a way of life directed away from our noisy, know-it-all, procedural voices and towards the deeper voice of Wisdom.

When do you question principle-procedure alignment?


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