Justice Is an Essay Question


Essay by
Scott Farrell


January 2003


Recently I was discussing the Seven Knightly Virtues with a group of high-school students, and the concept of justice was raised. In searching for examples of things that are "unjust," one of the young men brought up the mid-term in his American History class.

"I studied hard for the test," he explained, "and I knew all the dates and names. But when we got to class the teacher gave us an essay exam. I got a bad grade because she thought I didn't express myself properly, not because I didn't know the facts. I think that was completely unfair."

The student made an excellent point about the Code of Chivalry — but it was exactly the opposite of the one he intended to prove.

From careers to relationships to hobbies, we face tests every day of our lives. We work hard to learn all the names and dates and numbers, and it would be nice if our tests were given in "multiple choice" format. We could check all the right boxes, and our score would precisely reflect our knowledge — nothing more, nothing less.

But the tests life throws our way are not multiple choice, they're essay exams. In many ways, our knowledge is subordinate to the way we conduct and express ourselves when dealing with others and handling situations that can't be squeezed into neat little check-boxes. The answers we give to those vague, inexact and subjective essay questions on the test of life are what we call chivalry.

The Code of Chivalry does not reward those who simply check the right boxes at the right time, because the truth of the matter is that chivalry, like life, is unfair. Fairness is nothing but a scorecard — you did this, so you get that — and keeping score is a petty concept.

Justice, on the other hand, is a grand concept. Justice means doing your best rather than simply doing what is acceptable; it means holding yourself to the highest standards in situations where others only meet the minimum requirements.

Living by the Knightly Virtue of justice (rather than the more common standard of "fairness") can be frustrating and restrictive. But like an eager student, a knight in shining armor should never settle for merely filling in a check-box when given the opportunity to answer the essay questions of Chivalry Today.


© 2003 Scott Farrell

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