I’m interrupting my explorations of the relationship between justice and equality to think about another issue that often forces itself upon us, especially when we let ourselves care about other people. Three words sometimes misused as synonyms can help us clarify the problem: explanation, rationalization, and answer.
An explanation tells us how something happens – the process by which it occurs. When the matter is not painful emotionally, an explanation seems rather straightforward if not always simple. Say, the water in the birdbath was frozen this morning. We don’t have to look far for an explanation, do we? The temperature must have dropped low enough last night to freeze the water even with the debris in it. When the situation is painful emotionally, even tragic, matter-of-fact explanations may be helpful medically and even personally (to some degree), but they do not satisfy our questions. A child has died because of a genetic glitch that set in motion a terrible series of events that physicians do not yet know how to interrupt successfully. So, now parents and friends know how it happened, but in our anguish we don’t ask, “How?” We ask, “Why?”