An Introduction to Unitive Justice
The Nature of Unitive Justice?
Unitive justice is a values-based system of justice that has no punitive elements—it replaces structures like hierarchy, judgment and punishment with the structures of inclusion, connection and mutually beneficial action.
Lovingkindness is the moral principle upon which Unitive Justice is grounded. It is not moral to harm others, in any circumstances, so other answers are offered.
Unitive Justice offers those in conflict the opportunity to achieve mutual understanding and recognize their shared humanity. Out of this can come the opportunity to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome so the parties can go forward together.
Looking at Unitive Justice, structure by structure and as a whole, helps us begin to imagine how to create a viable, parallel model of justice based on Love, not fear; on Unity, not duality. Unitive Justice is also known as justice as Love.
We can understand a unitive system from various perspectives, one of which is to consider the Fourteen Arcs to Unitive Justice listed below. The Arcs provide a guide for going from a punitive system to a Unitive Community.
An Introduction to Unitive Justice
When we use the word “justice,” what do we mean? Fairness . . . revenge . . . forgiveness . . . retribution? While these terms are all used to describe justice, they are inconsistent because there are two fundamentally different types of justice being described: punitive justice that seeks retribution versus Unitive Justice that embodies lovingkindness.
The punitive model of justice is based on the moral principle proportional revenge, as in “an eye for an eye.” Unitive Justice is based on the moral principle of lovingkindness–whatever the circumstances, harming another is not condoned as moral. The internal moral consistency of Unitive Justice constitutes a powerful foundation without which a system of justice is inherently flawed and inevitably inconsistent.
When a conflict is addressed using a process grounded on the principles of Unitive Justice, the conflict is the subject of the process, Those who have been impacted by the harmful act come together to discover what they can do to restore the connection and harmony that has been breached. Unitive Justice offers those impacted by the harmful act an opportunity to be the solution by restoring connection and addressing root causes.
When a criminal court addresses conflict, the accused is the subject of the process—they want to know what law did he break and what will his punishment be? The underlying brokenness out of which the conflict arose is not considered as that information is considered “collateral” to answering the questions the court wants answered.
Unitive Justice calls us to rise to a level beyond the norm. Here, a generosity of spirit may be extended that, in turn, diminishes any desire for retribution or revenge. What may be experienced as a loss in a punitive process when it is imposed (such as restitution or a required apology) may be willingly offered in the spirit of generosity in a Unitive Justice process. A giving and receiving to and from one another tends to flow naturally, leading to a mutually beneficial outcome that restores balance.
As life lives through us, what we are being and doing is what we experience. By creating a Unitive Justice system and holding true to it, we achieve both a different experience and a new outcome. It is a path to strong communities and lasting peace.
Restorative Justice Can be Based on the Principles of Unitive Justice
Unitive Justice falls within the large umbrella of restorative justice, but at the “best practices” end of the spectrum because it has no punitive elements. Restorative justice assumes that conflict is an opportunity for healing and even transformation, but some “blended models” of RJ retain elements of the punitive system that Unitive Justice guards against.
This video is an example of a restorative justice process in a burglary case in England. It demonstrates how an alternative model of justice that seeks restoration, instead of retribution, can result in a more effective outcome. After Will (whom Peter had robbed) helped Peter turn his life around, Peter (the one who caused the harm) now devotes his life to helping other offenders turn their lives around–a far better outcome at a fraction of the cost!
In the video below, Sylvia Clute explains more about unitive justice. The video was made by Bruce Baumann following a Unitive Justice workshop in Colorado.
If your organization would like to sponsor a presentation by Sylvia Clute, please complete the contact form. Sylvia brings an urgent message about the need to be aware of the model of justice we choose. There is a connection between (a) punitive justice that teaches it is moral to harm others so long as the harm done is proportional to the harm experienced and (b) the sustained violence in the world. Peace in the world, protection of our environment, the elimination of deep pockets of poverty will be difficult to achieve so long as punitive justice is the norm. The system we are immersed in does not support the outcome we hope to achieve.
Until we have a viable alternative, punitive justice is our only choice. Unitive Justice offers a viable, tested parallel model of justice that we can create at the local level, a model based on the moral principle of lovingkindness. Unitive Justice is a system that supports achieving peace and a better world for future generations. Justice matters and we have a choice!
For more information about Sylvia see www.SylviaClute.com.