Poetry Month Challenges Day 12: Joy and Justice

Justice in Joy by Maria L. Berg 2023

Joy & Justice

I’ve looked at both Joy (Day 12 last year) and Justice (and as a contradictory abstraction with Injustice; The Seriousness of Justice and Injustice) before, but what makes today exciting is that through the A to Z challenge I’m thinking about joy and justice as contradictory and how that could happen and what that means.

Joy is the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation; delight; a state of happiness. Justice is the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness; the administering of deserved punishment or reward. All good things, right? How could they be contradictory? The first thing I thought of was a person not feeling they deserve the punishment or reward. That would definitely be contradictory to joy. Let’s look a little more closely.

In the fabulous text The Mind at Mischief (1929), Doctor Sadler connects emotions to instincts. He connects joy with self-assertion:

Elation—Elation is the emotion aroused by indulging the instinct of self-assertion. It is the emotion behind all our efforts at self-display. It is the positive element of self-consciousness. It is particularly exemplified in the characteristic swagger of the male and the vanity of the female, and is an emotion undoubtedly responsible for much of the conduct that goes by the name of bravery.

In the animal world we see this emotion in action as a spirited horse lifts high his hoofs and tenses every muscle in his body while prancing around on parade. It is shown in the spreading tail of the peacock, and the strutting of the mother hen in the presence of her chicks. We find this same primitive instinct coming to the front in certain cases of the human insane. Softening of the brain is sometimes accompanied by “delusions of grandeur,” the unfortunate individual becoming the victim of a boastful and insane elation.

Elation—self-assertion—is essential to human happiness. While over exaggeration of one’s ego invariably leads to trouble and more or less sorrow and unhappiness, a reasonable indulgence of self-display and the enjoyment of average self-expression are indispensable to good health and happiness. Human beings must have an opportunity to “show off”—at least in moderation—in order to be happy. Even the young child is observed to emerge from his bashful hiding behind his mother’s apron, and, after turning a somersault, inquire of the stranger, “Can you do that?” We are all more or less like the children, who, as they “show off,” say, “Watch me do this.” There is joy in performance. We are happy when in action. We are unhappy when we are denied the opportunity to indulge in some sort of self-assertion with its accompanying emotion of elation.

William S. Sadler, M.D.

So according to Doctor Sadler, joy arises from ego-stroking; in moderation (of course).

After outlining the instincts and their accompanying emotions, Sadler discusses the “human sentiments” which are our emotions coordinated and focused on some person or thing. We find his only mention of justice under the sentiment “Revenge”:

Revenge—Revenge is a complicated, deep-seated human sentiment. It starts out as rivalry, then grows into envy; disappointment breeds anger; in the end it is sometimes propelled by that demon of all human sentiments, hate. We may become angry at an insult which assails our elation and assaults our ego. We may seek retaliation because of some real or fancied wrong. It may be that a social struggle has challenged our pugnacity and thus aroused our anger and in the end embittered us to the indulgence of hate. Revenge is the full growth of tolerated bitterness and emotional disappointment.

Our whole system of law, penalties, and punishments is but an effort to substitute the machinery of public justice for the older order of private vengeance. The desire for revenge follows on the heels of conscious resentment. We more particularly resent public slights or insults, and our vengeful emotion is shown in our studied efforts to “get even” with the offender.

We also resent insult or injury to our family, tribe, or country, and thus may develop family feuds and national animosities with their bloodshed and wars. The savage, ofttimes, when brooding over his insult and his contemplated revenge, is found to “sulk in his tent.” Vengeance is a deliberated sort of resentment in contrast with the sudden and unrestrained emotional reaction of anger, tho all revenge is rooted and grounded in anger—the pugnacious instinct.

The soul who seeks revenge is sad and self-centered. Joy attends the forgiving spirit, while sorrow and regret are the final rewards of all who allow their better natures to be ravaged by the barbarous desire for personal vengeance.

William S. Sadler, M.D.

There we have the contradictory nature of justice and joy: joy forgives, and justice wants revenge. Joy is ego-stroking in moderation, and justice is the vengeance of an insulted ego.

Now that I’ve found the contradiction of joy and justice, how will I reunite them in my images?

Today’s Images

Previously when looking at justice, I created an elaborate moving scales filter, and for joy I used an elaborate hearts and stars pattern filter that fit on the lens cover. Today, I wanted to simplify. Justice makes me think of straight vertical lines, or a single centered point. Joy makes me think of movement and bright colors. To find the joy in justice, and the justice in joy I drew colored lines on a clear plastic filter, then used a transformer filter over it that has two thin rectangles that open and close. The inner rectangles are folded back and forth to give a stair effect (top image). I also explored the vertical stripes in the sheer fabric I put over the main mirror yesterday (image below).

Joy in Justice by Maria L. Berg 2023

The Prompts


Today’s prompt is “to write a poem that addresses itself or some aspect of its self (i.e., “Dear Poem,” or “what are my quatrains up to?”; “Couplet, come with me . . .”)”

Poem A Day

Today’s prompt is to write a sound poem.

The Poem

Poem, how do you sound today?

Are you raucous and celebratory:
full of bright yays and ha ha has
snorts and huzzahs and guffaws
claps, snaps, and aaaahs?

Or are you structured and subdued:
stuck in traditions just
with exclamations few
and A B end rhymes must?

But buzz, buzz distraction
and woohoo! loves elation
found in sound and whiz bang!
everything changes

Joy justified sounds clear
like the tink, tink, tink
of tapping a full glass
with a tiny collector’s spoon
with a windmill on the handle
with moving blades.

3 thoughts on “Poetry Month Challenges Day 12: Joy and Justice

  1. Pingback: Poetry Month Challenges Day 13: Kindness and Knowledge | Experience Writing

  2. First, 👍🏻, I do agree with your thoughts on how joy and justice could contradict each other.. sometimes, when I think I am being a just parent applying logic, I realize i might (well, am) taking the joy out of the situation at times.. (and needlessly so too) so I am attempting to see what needs to be done where ..
    Second, your poem takes on both prompts so wonderfully!! love how it ends up sounding in the end…
    My post is here

    Liked by 1 person

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