Justice lesson from a baseball | Judge David Larson

What exactly is justice? Is justice a condition of existence? Or, does it denote some action on our part? Is justice a result? Or, is justice the way we behave and how we treat each other?

What exactly is justice? Is justice a condition of existence? Or, does it denote some action on our part? Is justice a result? Or, is justice the way we behave and how we treat each other?

It is amazing what we learn from our children. I experienced an event with my son that provides a lesson for us all about what justice means.

My sons and I went to a number of Mariners games in the past. My oldest son’s main goal in attending games was to snag a foul ball or a home run ball. It was his obsession, and his disappointment was palpable each time he would come up empty. It would have been cheaper to buy him a few dozen baseballs, but it was not about having just any baseball. It was about catching a Mariners baseball at a Mariners game.

We learned that players warming up in the outfield during batting practice tossed balls that did not quite make it over the fence into the stands. The chance of retrieving a ball hit over the fence was also much greater during batting practice. We were able to stand at the outfield rail with some other people with the same idea of getting a baseball.

We were there for about 15 minutes when a player from the opposing team tossed a ball up to a 6-year-old boy standing next to my then 12-year-old son. It was obvious that the ball was intended for this younger boy. It glided right toward his glove, but hit off the edge, fell to the ground, and rolled right to my oldest son’s feet.

My son revealed a burst of character that made me swell with pride. He picked up the ball and handed it to the younger boy as its intended recipient. This was an especially good act by my son because the baseball he handed over would have been the very first baseball he would have ever received at a Mariners game.

I wish that were how this story ended, but the lessons we learned that day were not over. I will never know if the opposing player saw what my son did, but it seemed that my son’s deserved reward was on its way when the opposing player tossed the next ball he touched directly to my son. It was obvious this ball was intended for him. The ball was on a perfect trajectory to my son’s open glove when a man in his late 30’s thrust his glove over my son’s and took the ball right out of mid-air.

Some of the readers of this piece probably believe that my son deserved what he got (or what he did not get) because he should have just kept the first baseball. After all, “do unto others before they do unto you” seems to be the ethic of choice for many these days.

However, my son gained more by giving that baseball to the other boy than he ever could have gained if he would have kept the baseball. The baseball would have gathered dust and would have become discolored with age, but his character would remain clean and untarnished if he lived the rest of his life this way.

This story is symbolic of just about every choice we make when we interact with others. The man who took the ball from my son did nothing illegal, but something can be legal and still be wrong. This experience taught me more about justice and injustice that anything I had ever read in law books. Justice and injustice in this situation manifested as a microcosm of life in the stark contrast between how a 12-year-old acted and how an adult acted in a similar situation.

Self-interest is the lifeblood of a free society, but society decays if self-interest is not tempered with justice. Selfishness and injustice are close cousins. Self-interest and injustice are incompatible. Don’t confuse this with the type of “social justice” that defines justice in economic terms. True justice is found in our souls, not in our pocketbooks. This is not liberal or conservative, it’s just true.

Are we going to treat others as we want to be treated? Or, are we only going to just do unto others?

Justice is an action and a result. You create justice by how you treat others and by how you live your daily life. Sadly, the same is true for injustice.

Judge David Larson of the Federal Way Municipal Court can be reached at david.larson@cityoffederalway.com.