The 14 Arcs from Punitive to Unitive Justice

Arc 1: From Rules to Values

From Rules
Rules: laws, requirements or guidelines intended to govern conduct within a particular activity or jurisdiction, and generally written and enforced by those who control that activity or jurisdiction.  Rules generally tell us what we are NOT to do. Do not go over the speed limit, do not commit robbery, do not commit murder. This means that each time a new harm is invented the list of rules must be expanded to specifically prohibit the new offense (because due process requires that, in theory at least, we know what we are not to do before we are punished). Thus, the code books and school rules become ever more voluminous.  A significant aspect of how rules work is that they may be written to legalize anything, whether it is moral or not, if those responsible for writing the rules so choose. Colonization was legal. Slavery was legal. Apartheid was legal. Rules do not have to be based on values, although ideally they are. Because the structures of a punitive system undermine connection, a punitive system must rely on punishment to enforce compliance with the rules. When a little punishment does not achieve compliance, the punishment must escalate.
To Values
Values: internal moral guidance reflected in shared positive community norms that are modeled by and maintained within the community.  The term “values” refers only to positive values such as honesty, integrity, kindness, generosity, Love, trust, and the like. These are core values that are found in all cultures around the globe. Values are taught by example. They become the shared community norms by being reflected in the actions of community members. Values inform others of who the people in the community inherently are, and of the level of humanity at which they choose to live.  Values are not tangible things, so they are recognized only by their results. When we see the results, we know that values are present and practiced. By experiencing values as they manifest, we learn what values are. When we see what values do, it is clear that they transcend rules. Going from rules to values is system change at a deep level. Strengthening our communities by strengthening the community’s moral fabric will result in the need for fewer rules, as well as fewer suspensions, expulsions, jails or prisons for those who violate the rules. When we consider the rules being enacted or already in place, it serves us well to measure each law by the moral standards that we want our laws to embody.

Arc 2: From Control to Selfgovernance

From  Control
Control: the process of dominating others and restricting their freedom through physical, mental, or emotional coercion; wielding influence using fear tactics, be they blatant or covert. Control is territorial and requires perpetual enforcement.  Control is a territorial concept that is temporary, fleeting, and unpredictable. As rebellion is a constant threat, the person exercising control cannot sleep soundly for fear that control will be lost when his back is turned. Slave masters, dictators, and occupiers know this all too well.  When those in control lack integrity, the punitive system is easily used to serve their own interests. Because there is no one to control those in control, leaders can sometimes do whatever they want, rules or not.  Fear plays a central role in the dynamic of control. On the one hand, fear motivates the desire for control. Then, control is achieved by instilling fear of what the consequences of disobedience might be—fear of physical pain or fear that something tangible or cherished will be lost. In our culture, it is difficult to recognize our shared humanity because we have established boundaries of control and privilege that make it difficult for us to truly see or hear one another. We have become disconnected from one another, living disconnected lives. 
To Selfgovernance
Selfgovernance:  internal self-control and self-mastery; being one’s own master; the ability to exercise the function of regulation upon oneself without the intervention of an external authority.  Selfgovernance depends on oneself alone. It involves no physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual threat; it involves no compulsion. When you selfgovern you rise above questions such as, “How do I impose control, how do I get retribution and what is in it for me?” While fear plays a central role in the dynamic of control, selfgovernance helps build the trust that dispels fear.  Selfgovernance is bolstered by other changes that come with it. When you master selfgovernance, how you choose to live begins to flow naturally toward positive core values guided by your internal moral compass. With selfgovernance and living out of values will come honesty (Arc 3) and insight (Arc 4). This is an example of how each of the 14 Arcs is interrelated, each Arc supporting the others, forming an integrated system. As this integration grows, you are positioned to transcend the punitive system, even while you are in it! When two or more are joined in selfgovernance, this gives rise to an emerging new force that enables those who are embracing selfgovernance to rise above punitive justice and manifest justice as Love! Without selfgovernance, justice as Love is unachievable. 

Arc 3: From Deception to Honesty

From  Deception
Deception: the act of causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid; giving a misleading or untruthful account of conduct, intentions or events.  In a court of law, each witness is sworn to tell the truth, but in a punitive system, telling the truth is sometimes secondary to other considerations. When needed, the truth becomes secondary. For example, the Fifth Amendment provides that no defendant in a criminal case may be compelled to be a witness against himself—the defendant cannot be forced to admit guilt. The way this is achieved in our criminal courts is to allow guilty defendants to plead “not guilty,” so those who are guilty are not distinguishable from those who are not.  In the punitive system, being honest may not be safe. It can help the opponent win, hasten one’s defeat, or increase the punishment. As a result, attorneys readily admonish their clients to never say things like “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake”—to anyone. To avoid costly blunders, the attorneys often control the narrative by speaking on behalf of their clients.  The punitive process is not designed to look at a continuous, coherent picture; it is designed to narrowly focus on offender guilt or defendant liability. This narrow focus can make distortion much easier. As the underlying cause of the dispute is ignored, the underlying systemic conditions are likely to continue. In turn, the harms that are fueled by those conditions continue to occur. Fortunately, this system is not our only choice.
To Honesty
Honesty: the act of giving a fair and truthful account of conduct, intentions or events. Other terms for honesty: candor, frankness, veracity. In a unitive system, we must walk toward the truth, even when it is painful. It requires courage. But when being honest is safe, we are free of the pressure to deceive. When we go from deception to honesty, we experience the freedom that comes with it. If honesty fails, the system is jeopardized. The success of Unitive Justice depends on the participants telling the truth in order for them to understand one another and to recognize their shared humanity, for the underlying conflict dynamic to be discovered, and for mutually beneficial action to emerge. This is more likely to occur in a space where it is safe to tell the truth, something that facing the retribution and revenge of the punitive system usually does not provide. Creating a safe environment for truth-telling does not depend on just one unitive structural element. Unitive Justice is a system that works because the structural elements are mutually supportive. Shared values support equality. Values and equality support insight and connection, and they strengthen community and trust. Trust leads to honesty and honesty opens the door to new possibilities and mutually beneficial action—an upward spiral that may become self-perpetuating. 

Arc 4: From Judgement to Insight

From Judgement

Judgement: considered decisions intended to result in sensible conclusions, but often tainted by preconceived perceptions believed to be real when they are not. 

A punitive system relies on judgement—discerning the divide between who is guilty or innocent, who is good or bad, who is with us and who is against us. We often judge another to be guilty, lazy or undesirable without realizing our judgement is tainted by what we project onto others—that we are seeing the speck in another’s eye while being blind to the log in our own. As judgement proliferates, separation from one another deepens, and human relations deteriorate. Our bonds of connection are torn or even severed.

Modern brain science provides evidence that judgement is not as reliable as we once thought it was. Unconscious programming lies in the recesses of the mind. Like an invisible hand, this programming guides where we direct our judgement, and it may influence our reactions to events, even when we are confident that we are being completely rational. 

Judgement permits us to project blame for our intentional actions on those whom we harm. This is achieved by applying the double moral standard upon which proportional revenge depends, i.e., we claim our harming others is moral, even redemptive, yet we claim their harms are immoral and destructive, even when all are doing the same thing. 

Our unconscious programming can lead to an insidious use of judgement. Those who are in control sometimes use judgement to justify their use of force or abuse as they impose control, while at the same time, judging those being controlled as deserving of the abuse (an example of the double moral standard inherent in proportional revenge.)  

Moreover, judgement blocks all possibility of experiencing joy. You can only experience joy in the moment. Dwelling on past grievances and judging others, how others victimized you and how you are going to get even, destroys all possibility of experiencing joy in that moment. 

To Insight

Insight: a discovery of new information about the inner nature of an act or events; an act of discerning deeply that reveals new information and new possibilities that were not previously seen. 

Insight is a mental portal that suddenly leads to inner sight. This inner sight accesses knowledge and understanding that was previously inaccessible. Insight paves the way for qualitatively different thinking or actions. Insight is forward looking, while judgement keeps the focus on the past. 

Insight is achieved through discernment or “mindful presence.” This leads to understanding people, issues and contexts free of the projection of one’s own judgement. Insight leads to understanding the cause of one’s own pain and the pain of others, letting it be acknowledged, and perhaps seen in a new way. 

Getting to insight requires peeling off layers of judgement. Because it incorporates unitive principles, the Unitive Justice Circle supports us in moving beyond judgement as we address conflict. The Unitive Justice Circle process provides an environment that supports thinking and reasoning, and even insight and connection, often leading to mutually beneficial action.

With insight, circle participants might see how they meet their needs (perhaps indirectly or unconsciously) in ways that may contribute to the conflict dynamics and/or systemic patterns that fueled the conflict the found themselves in—they may see that they were part of the cause. This insight might lead them to change how they show up in the world, to use their power differently as they go forward.

Arc 5: From Distrust to Trust

From Distrust
Distrust: suspicion of or doubt about the honesty or reliability of another.  All of the structural elements of the punitive system tend to undermine trust and promote distrust. The dualistic worldview, i.e., the binary world of “us versus them,” the “good people versus the bad people,” “light versus dark,” to which the punitive system is tied, reinforces and sustains distrust of others.  Hierarchy promotes separation and emphasizes differences, both of which promote distrust. The judgment upon which punitive justice depends is based on projections and perceptions that are often wrong; this fuels distrust. The adversarial nature of the punitive system encourages adversaries to guard their own self-interests, further causing distrust to grow. Narrowing the scope of consideration to the event, as the punitive system does, excludes a lot of relevant information; the mistakes in judgment that follow undermine trust. Checks on those at the top of a hierarchy are often difficult to impose, and where such checks exist, they tend to be weak. The resulting potential for abuse of authority and control further undermines trust. Knowing that abuse can arise in any hierarchical profession and in any hierarchical governing agency, who can we trust?  Trust will never be a prevalent operative value in a punitive system—it is a system that, by its very nature, undermines trust. When trust is absent, suspicion emerges from distrust. 
To Trust
Trust: relational interdependence that strengthens relationships and makes human interactions more functional because it is built on shared values. Trust begins on the individual level, then becomes a community value.  While the punitive system’s structural elements undermine trust, the structural elements of the unitive system build trust. Trust is difficult to define and even more difficult to measure, and yet we know what trust is. Trust is relational. Trust is built one interaction at a time, one day at a time, and yet it can be lost in a moment when the values that hold it in place are violated. When we trust, we accept the risk of being betrayed. When trust is absent, suspicion emerges to undermine our interactions. Trust is tied to other values. Trusting a person depends on their honesty, integrity, fairness and courage. Values such as these instill trust. Trust nurtures trust. The more trust you extend to others, the more others are likely to trust you. Trust has an internal reward—the greater the trust among individuals, the more harmonious their relationships are likely to be. Trust is greatest when values are strong. The unitive system nurtures a culture that is sustained by values instead of rules or at a minimum, rules that are guided by values. Equality, meaning inclusion without exception, engenders trust. The careful listening that can lead to insight instead of judgment builds trust. 

Arc 6: From Self-Doubt to Courage

From Self-Doubt
Self-doubt: a feeling of insecurity regarding one’s own worth, value, ability or power. It leads to conformity, accepting a very low bar for one’s purpose in life, to depression and other negative outcomes. Self-doubt is a persistent state of insecurity, perhaps unnoticed when distracted or in one’s comfort zone, but quick to come to the fore when something unfamiliar or challenging arises. A symptom of self-doubt might be a feeling of queasiness in the pit of your stomach when faced with an attack, mental or physical, by a person of higher rank or authority. It might show up as a feeling of dread when you know you will be judged by someone you love and depend on.      Self-doubt inhibits our ability to live life fully. It makes us small, unwilling to take a risk or discover new    opportunities. It makes us want to stay in our comfort zone, unwilling or unable to step out. We receive many messages from the time we are small children about how we are inadequate, incompetent, mistaken, unappreciated, too little this or too much that—messages that plant the seeds of self-doubt.  Self-doubt robs not only the one experiencing it. When you fail to believe in yourself, it can result in you not joining forces with someone who believes in you because of your fear you cannot live up to their expectations. This additional layer of self-doubt means you let them down, as well.  Self-doubt is a handicap that precludes one’s ability to discern the purpose or the meaning of life. Self-doubt keeps one small. When self-doubt becomes a way of life, reaching inside for a spark of courage is the remedy. A community that is non-judgmental and non-punitive and one that offers support in addressing conflict in ways that achieve mutually beneficial outcomes supports the journey from self-doubt to courage.
To Courage
Courage: the moral bravery to do the right thing even in the face of disapproval, opposition or rejection; the emotional bravery to be vulnerable, present to own one’s own pain, to be present to the pain of others and to practice radical tenderness even in the face of entrenched callousness; the intellectual bravery to question one’s own thinking, to risk discovering new ideas, and to discern and tell the truth; the spiritual bravery to discern one’s purpose and the meaning of life; the civic bravery to responsibly exercise one’s role as citizen and to be a player in writing a new version of history where all are deserving of dignity and respect; and the physical bravery to act in the face of fear or risk of physical harm. Courage gives us the ability to do the extraordinary, even while we think we are ordinary.  Courage replaces the anger and depression of self-doubt with empowerment. It takes courage to reach for the highest level of possibility for yourself and to help others get there, as well. Courage means transcending fear to perform difficult acts. Sometimes it takes courage to perform an act, only to discover that it was difficult only in our mind.  Honesty often requires courage. When being honest involves something that might result in being judged, criticized or shunned, it takes courage to be honest. It takes courage to speak honestly and openly about who you are, about what you are feeling, and about your personal experiences.  It takes courage—a lot—to be vulnerable. It is through honest communication, courageous vulnerability, and recognition of our shared humanity that we achieve the insight needed to recognize the underlying conditions that are fueling our conflicts. We often discover that the roots of the problem are unmet needs, unhealed wounds, mistaken beliefs or the societal/institutional conditions that undermine wholeness. It is in mustering the courage to come together in honest communication that we figure this out and can change the world—one connection at a time. 

Arc 7: From Proportional Revenge to Lovingkindness

From Proportional Revenge/Harm Answers Harm
Proportional revenge: the level of punishment is scaled relative to the severity of the crime or harm for which punishment is being inflicted. It used to be literal: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Now many assume the punishment does not have to be exactly equivalent to the crime, but retributivists differ on what measure of revenge is permitted to achieve “justice.”  Proportional revenge is the guiding moral principle of punitive justice. Common phrases, like “spare the rod, spoil the child,” “the punishment fits the crime,” “get even” and “tit for tat” describe the moral principle of proportional revenge. The “justice” in proportional revenge lies in balancing one harm against another, as in “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Proportional revenge gets repeated farther down the “food chain.” For example, hurting those who “snitch” on you is a system of proportional revenge, as in, “you tell on me and I will hurt you for that.”  When a harm of equal measure is done in response to a prior harm, the latter harm is deemed to be moral. The set of scales is an appropriate symbol for this retributive model of justice, as one harm is to be equal in measure to the harm being answered—that is the measure of justice. A common example of proportional revenge is when a parent (or a principal) spanks a child for breaking a rule. The parent may feel it is justified or necessary, but it is proportional revenge. When students get into a fight in order to “get even,” they are following the example of the parent who spanked them. The school yard fight operates on the same moral principle that a nation relies on when it goes to war—proportional revenge.
To Lovingkindness/Heal, Do No Harm
Lovingkindness: the extension of kindness and compassion toward all living beings based on one’s moral duty as a human to do so. This moral standard applies equally to everyone, without exception. Whatever the circumstances, harm to another is not condoned as moral. We address harm, but not with more harm; we respond to harm as a call for Love. The moral measure of lovingkindness is at least as ancient as proportional revenge, and is found in all major sacred texts and philosophies, sometimes called the “Golden Rule.” Some immediately question, “How do we extend lovingkindness to those who are a threat if they are not restrained, such as a child molester or rapist?” While we are deeply immersed in the punitive system and are being taught that retribution and punishment constitute justice, confusion or doubt about how lovingkindness might apply in the face of conflict, even violence, is understandable. Violence begets violence. As we begin to create Unitive Justice systems that address conflict early on and as we address the root causes, we are changing the societal conditions out of which acts, be they good or bad, arise. As we create societal conditions that support mutual understanding and acts of kindness, the frequency of harmful acts will be reduced and fewer violent acts will occur. Lovingkindness begets lovingkindness. Martin Luther King, Jr. explained that the nonviolent approach of Love does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor—it first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. “It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.” Some people object that the positive results of Unitive Justice take too long to produce. They prefer the quick compliance that punishment and revenge aim to achieve, not considering the time it takes to repair the further wounding and conflict that comes with a retributive response.  Unitive justice will not immediately reverse everything in the larger context, but neither is it inaction or passivity. It is a place to begin to restore positive connection and balance, even in difficult cases. One circle at a time. One home at a time. One classroom at a time. One school at a time. One community at a time.

Arc 8: From Self-Interest to Community

From Self-Interest
Self-interest: a concern for one’s own interest or advantage, without regard for the impact on others. Self-interest depends on a belief in separation, and is rational only to those with a dualistic, us-versus-them, worldview.  Self-interest and community are dependent on two distinct underlying beliefs: separation and connection—the belief that we are all separate, or alternatively, that we are all connected. Paradoxically, the functional value of believing in separateness requires that it be a shared belief, which ironically, is grounded in connection! Separation appears to be confirmed by our everyday physical existence—individuals appear to be separate from what is in their environment. Moreover, the belief in separation is reinforced by traditional Newtonian physics that teaches matter is fundamental, our ultimate reality. From this material understanding of the world, we constructed our perceived reality based on how matter functions, i.e., a world based on materialism and separation, ignoring or dismissing all that contradicts this view. In this mindset, self-interest is seen as having no cost, only benefits. Our deference to the status quo is so ingrained that self-interest can be dismissed as “it’s just how it is,” suggesting a habit and an apathy that are difficult to escape. This is compounded by the criminal court process that narrows the scope of admissible questions to: what law was broken, who broke it and what is there punishment to be—not larger context out of which the crime emerged. Only those familiar with the intricacies of how the system works are likely to see what is actually happening. 
To Community
Community: the manifestation of connection on the physical plane by being relational, in association or kinship; humans sharing one humanity expressed as unique individuals living collectively out of shared values. What we can do together far surpasses what we can do alone.  Our need to be connected in community is a basic human need. We have no meaning or identity on the physical plane apart from our place in community. We might exist on the fringe of community, but even that defines our place in community.  The punitive system looks at a harmful event at close range and sees only a few actors: the offender, the victim and the state whose law was broken, while ignoring the community. But if we expand the lens, we eventually see the patterns that reflect the state of our connectedness, be it healthy or broken. Our choices, perhaps reflecting our disinterest or our neglect, our anger or our pain, are aspects of this whole. But so are our acts that are moved by Love—generosity, care and concern. What happens in one part of the community impacts the entire community, for better or for worse.  Individually, we help hold intact the belief systems, the institutional conditions, the culture that defines our community—the puzzle in which we are one of the pieces. As the adage says, “think global, act local,” our individual action is a building block of community action, from the local to the global. Only when we see the connection between larger societal conditions and what we do locally as individuals do we recognize the power we have to shape our lives and to create systemic change—change that happens in community. 

Arc 9: From Hierarchy/Top Down to Equality/Inclusion

From Hierarchy/Top Down
Hierarchy: a classification or organization in which people, groups or things are ranked one above the other according to status, perceived importance, or authoritarian allocation of value. Those at the top of the hierarchy benefit from entitlement and privilege, and may exhibit a sense of superiority. Deference to hierarchy may be based on respect, habit or fear.  Hierarchy reigns when those in control deem themselves to be inherently of greater value than others, entitled to special conditions and free of certain obligations because of their rank. Hierarchy serves the self-interest of those in it, as it disregards our shared humanity.  We might think that hierarchy is an essential element of certain roles or functions, but this is not the case. The President of the United States is a role that can be carried out with humility and without a sense of superiority, as Abraham Lincoln did. But this requires a strong moral compass and character grounded in core values, such as integrity, honesty and generosity. The complexity of a punitive system can be used to justify the hierarchy that manages it; the need to manage the complex punitive system provides a rationale for the existence of the hierarchy. We live with hierarchy without seeing how it destroys connection and the cost of the separation it causes. If this system is all we know, we are unlikely to ask, “Is this our only option?’
To Equality/Inclusion
Equality/Inclusion: inclusiveness without exception; the condition of being accorded the same value, respect, dignity, connection and humanity as all others, without exception. At the level of our shared humanity we are equal and anything that appears to be less is mere judgment. Such equality honors the likeness of God or living spirit that dwells within each one of us. Roles are differentiated based on skills and knowledge, but roles in UJ do not have entitlement, privilege or superiority attached to them.  Examples of this type of inclusion—where no exception is permitted—are well known, as in the teaching, “love your neighbor as yourself,” the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the Muslim teaching of wishing for others what you wish for yourself, the admonition to “love one another as I have loved you,” the commandment to love your enemies, in the Hindu greeting, “Namaste,” meaning “the soul in me greets the soul in you.” In no instance is an exception to inclusion countenanced.  Equality leads us to consider accountability broadly—to consider the human needs, met and unmet, and the societal/institutional conditions (usually hidden by system blindness) that, in combination, fuel conflict. Each one of us is invited to consider how we might be contributing to these conditions—consciously or unconsciously—and to consider our self-accountability when conflict arises.  In the Unitive Justice Circle process, we are present to the inherent goodness and equality of all participants. This helps build a bridge from where the participants are, often sitting in their desire for revenge, to a place where they are able to hear one another and come to a mutual understanding. This opens the possibility of going forward together and no one has to lose.

Arc 10: From Punishment to Connection

From Punishment
Punishment: suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)  The immediate goal of punitive justice is to punish offenders in order to enforce compliance with the rules and/or achieve atonement for the harm done. An indirect goal is to deter would-be wrongdoers by making the consequence of doing wrong painful and/or costly.  The theory regarding punishment includes the assurance that, when it is used, its imposition will be fair because “justice is blind,” meaning punishment is imposed objectively and impartially, without preferential treatment for anyone based on wealth, race or social status. A blind-folded Lady Justice assures us this is so, but it too often is not. Making exceptions for the “good people,” so they avoid the prescribed punishment, has long been an integral part of a punitive system. Deciding who gets the benefit of exceptions to otherwise strict enforcement of the rules and punishment meted out for violations is one of the privileges accorded to those in control. Punishment is expeditious, a quick fix, but often fails as a long-term solution. It excludes consideration of the whole by narrowly defining the goal as compliance and the means as punishment, leaving institutional or societal conditions that fuel conflict unaddressed. As most U.S. citizens experience a justice system that models vengeance as the norm, we should not be surprised that people in the U.S. resort to this form of justice when they feel violated at home, at school, at work or at church. Because the U.S. allows easy access to guns, the U.S. experiences mass shootings in theaters, schools, churches and other places—attacks nearly always carried out by people seeking vengeance for one perceived wrong or another. 
To Connection
Connection: the joining of individual minds within united consciousness; the state of being present to our shared humanity, a relationship that exists beyond our differences.  When one believes that reality is fragmented, fearful and characterized by a perpetual us-versus-them battle, the concept of connection is difficult to grasp. But when one overcomes the belief in duality, seeing connection as reality is natural. Unitive Justice works within the reality of connection.  The new science of quantum physics affirms our interconnectedness. We now know that, while the Newtonian laws of matter apply at the gross physical level, a more fundamental reality exists beyond matter—an all-encompassing field of energy in which separation does not exist. When science redefines our reality, as quantum physics is doing, we must create new institutions that reflect our new understanding of reality. The connection that binds us to one another is what a unitive system uses to maintain order and achieve peace. We are unlikely to harm those with whom we have a connection. In fact, connection is the only means to achieve peace and sustained order. Connection negates the perception of standing alone upon which separation depends. We are not stand-alone, independent individuals—we are interconnected. As Dr. Martin Luther King recognized, “For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” A problem cannot be solved until we know what the problem is, and peace cannot be achieved until we solve our problems. Everyone seems to have their separate problems, but our multitude of problems all stem from one source—the belief in separation. When we recognize this, we recognize that we have the means to solve our problems—connection. As we come to believe in connection instead of separation as our essential nature, we must determine how to create new institutions that reflect this new reality. 

Arc 11: From Compliance to Mutually Beneficial Action/Wholeness

From Compliance
Compliance: the act of obeying an order, rule, or request; doing what is demanded, often to avoid punishment.  Compliance describes the process of yielding to others. If the compliance is forced, it is the process of being dominated because one’s freedom is restricted through physical, mental, emotional or spiritual coercion. Forced compliance is achieved through the use of attack, might, force, coercion, violence, pressure or fear.  A punitive system requires compliance—compliance with rules, and compliance with the wishes of those who are superior in rank or influence. As a punitive justice system imposes rules and uses punishment to achieve compliance, this system undermines connection. Having undermined connection, compliance must be imposed from without to maintain order. Punishment becomes the only tool in the toolbox. Forced compliance can give rise to resistance or incite defiance. Resistance to compliance may arise from resentment toward various attributes of the punitive system. This might include resentment toward the privileges and entitlements accorded those who are forcing compliance; resentment toward punishment that is seen as unfair; resentment over using the system to serve the self-interest of those in control; resentment toward the deception used to justify actions and results. Seeing compliance as a structure of the punitive system may help us understand the cause of resistive behavior and defiance. Because control depends on compliance and collapses without it, people who overcome the fear of the consequences of not complying have the power to disarm those imposing control—this is how civil nonviolent disobedience works. The resisters can cause the system to dysfunction. This teaches us that peace is a mental state that exists within the individual; it is not imposed from without.
To Mutually Beneficial Action/Wholeness
Mutually beneficial action: transformative action by two or more individuals in which goals are fully aligned so conflict is resolved and no one has to lose. Mutually beneficial action seeds increased social safety and well-being for all through honest communication, courageous vulnerability and recognition of our shared humanity —from this, community harmony and wholeness tend to emerge.  Wholeness: the state of being unbroken, complete, a harmonious whole, unity. In a culture steeped in punitive justice, moving from punishment to mutually beneficial action involves a new understanding of how we approach justice. First, conflict is seen as a natural part of human activity and second, as an opportunity to learn, grow, to strengthen relationships and communities. This sets the goal of punishment to the side.  Instead of fearing conflict, or trying to control conflict, we walk toward the conflict, engage with it, to learn the information it contains. It is unitive principles, like lovingkindness, community, insight and equality that tend to support the natural flow of conflict toward a mutually beneficial resolution in which no one has to lose. This transformation is not as daunting as it may seem, as it can begin by harnessing the energy that exists in conflict to achieve transformation, one conflict at a time.  As people repeatedly choose the processes offered by Unitive Justice, the punitive system is used less frequently. As the Unitive Justice system grows, with time, the result is fewer conflicts and the punitive justice system diminishes in importance. Fewer conflicts mean there are more students in class instead of being suspended; there are empty jail cells and prison cells.  There is no fight to be had with the punitive system. As one community, then another, creates a Unitive Justice system parallel to the existing punitive system, and as it is utilized one conflict at a time, people see its efficiency and are drawn to it. As more communities implement Unitive Justice, a parallel model of justice that is free of punitive elements emerges. Instead of mere compliance, people come to understand mutually beneficial action as the logical goal of justice. 

Arc 12: From Event to Context

From Event
Event: an incident, occurrence, a crime, the specific harm done.  Punitive justice is designed to hold offenders accountable by determining what law was broken, who broke it, and what punishment is appropriate. It narrowly focuses its inquiry on the particular event, the isolated incident that the offender was involved in, while excluding consideration of the systemic conditions in which the offender chose to act.  A crime does not happen in a vacuum. For every action taken, there is a chain of people and events that have a part in setting up the conditions in which the act happens as it does, and results in its particular consequences. Every event has a context or particular circumstances out of which it arises. Individuals and their environment are in constant interaction. One means the punitive justice system uses to narrow the focus (and simplify the court proceedings) is to systematically exclude consideration of the context in which a crime occurred using certain rules of evidence. Under these rules, information about the context is generally defined as “collateral” and irrelevant to the issue of offender guilt or innocence, so it is not admissible as evidence. This narrow focus in the court setting means that the community has no say and no input regarding how and why the offense occurred, or what needs to change in order for the wider harm to be healed. The person directly harmed, the victim of the crime, serves merely as a witness for the state—their healing is also collateral and not seen as connected to the issue of offender guilt.  From a systems perspective, this narrow focus that excludes consideration of the context is necessary for the sustainability of a punitive system—it keeps the weaknesses of the system out of view. It might even hide how the punitive system is contributing to the underlying conflict dynamics and systemic injustice that the system is presumed to be addressing.
To Context
Context: the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs; the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed; the systemic conditions that give rise to individual, similar or repeated incidents and their particular consequences.  The context holds a wealth of information related to the event, such as how it happened and what needs to change to keep it from happening again. Each context is unique, a particular conflict community that evolved over time, a particular distribution of control, resources and structural injustices unique to its place and time. The context includes the residue from choices made long ago, and the impact continues, like slavery or segregation. It holds shared negative beliefs—beliefs about women, minorities, about people who are not heterosexual, or about a particular religion. The context can also reflect the energetic residue of lovingkindness, many acts of generosity extended to one another, and our shared commitment to make the world a better place. In considering the context, we see evidence of what our individual choices manifest. When we lack information about all the relevant factors at play and fail to include them in our considerations, we are sure to arrive at faulty conclusions. To discover the context of any event, we may need a means of doing so, as it is not always obvious. Unitive Justice provides a process that helps discover the context, the Unitive Justice Circle. Unitive Justice is designed to hold the complexity—the myriad of diverse variables—of what it means to be human, while simultaneously revealing the simplicity that is at the core of all conflict —separation crying for connection. This complexity and simplicity are both found in the context out of which the particular event emerged. When we shift our focus from the event to the context, our lens changes. When the particular crime is the focus, the offender is made the object of the process. When the context is the focus, the conflict becomes the subject of the process; two distinctly different perspectives and they lead to markedly different results—punishment versus the potential of shared healing.

Arc 13: From Opposition/Confrontation to Synergy

From Opposition/Confrontation
Opposition/Confrontation: hostile action or argument; an adversarial encounter.  The adversarial nature of both civil and criminal courts in the U.S. is grounded in required opposition to the adversary’s claims. The interest of one litigant is pitted against the interest of the other. A third party (the judge or jury) decides whose interest wins and whose interest loses. It is often a zero-sum game that that makes the stakes extremely high.  The theory behind this is that adversaries advancing their respective versions of the truth is a good way to discover the truth, despite a lot of evidence that the truth is not discovered using this method. Like other aspects of the system, we rarely question whether this adversarial system is a valid way to assess the truth. In fact, each side attempts to show that their version of the facts is true, or at least more true than the other side’s version, while attempting to undermine the credibility and relevance of the evidence presented by the opponent. Renowned 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner contends that the adversarial system does not work specifically because the lawyer’s job is to zealously press the client’s case, not to help find the truth. Even when a client wins, victory over the opposition has its limitations. Because the underlying relationships among the litigants are not repaired, and may be even worse after the litigation than before it began, winning a court case may still be accompanied by deep loss. If the real desire of the litigants was to find a way to resolve the conflict and heal their relationship, there is very little chance this will be the result of litigation. Systemic opposition is not limited to the legal system. It can be the norm in other institutions—in schools, businesses, churches—even families. Wherever punitive structures exist, opposition and confrontation will be among them. 
To Synergy
Synergy: the uplifting energy present when individual components coalesce in a co-creative effort, producing an outcome that none could produce alone. Synergy permits separate component parts to function as an integral, aggregate, whole system, although this is not a predictable attribute of their separate state. Synergy depends on connection.  We are capable of believing that we are separate thoughts and separate bodies living separate lives and going our separate ways. We are also capable of believing that we are united in one purpose and that each one of us is equally essential to the wellbeing of all. This latter belief gives rise to synergistic cooperation. In a synergistic system, because the interests of one side are not pitted against the interests of the other side, when breakdown occurs, community members are more likely to see the breakdown from a perspective other than judgment. This enhances the possibility that those involved will move toward understanding one another, perhaps even seeing their shared humanity and achieving a mutually beneficial resolution, rather than jockeying for the winning position.  While the punitive system is a win/lose system that pits those in a conflict against one another, in the unitive system, no one wins unless everyone does. Opposition is not a feature of the Unitive Justice system. Instead, the unitive structures are designed to unite the power of everyone engaged in a synergistic process, working toward unified goals. As synergy grows, an upward spiral can emerge. The Fourteen Arcs can serve as a guide, a measure for how far we have progressed and where next to focus our attention to support continued growth.  

Arc 14: From Fear to Love

From Fear
Fear: the negative emotion caused by the perpetual feeling of danger. Fear is heightened by the belief in separation and seeing the world divided between good and evil, us versus them. To the fearful mind, Love may seem inaccessible and idealistic.  At the cellular level, fear sends the signal to the cells that they must switch to protection mode, a state that precludes growth while survival is the focus. If this state exists for more than brief periods, the cells cease to grow or regenerate and disease results. When it occurs as a long-term strategy, this negative energy causes systemic breakdown. Children living in fear are more likely to be unhealthy than children who are secure in being loved. Punitive justice is grounded in fear; it is a system designed to protect and defend against the “other,” the rule breaker, the enemy. In the punitive justice system conflict is addressed from the perspective of fear of the other and how the other will be punished and brought into compliance. In our need for self-defense against those whom we fear, we answer harm with more harm, and the harm becomes endless. The structures of punitive justice support and sustain fear of the other because they undermine connection and trust, including the duality consciousness needed for a punitive system to appear rational. Fear, in its many forms, fuels the drive for control, as the fearful seek to address their pervasive sense of danger. Amassing the means of imposing control is a consuming endeavor, a futile search for peace because the endeavor itself undermines peace. Control depends on separation and on fear, thus it undermines security and may incite rebellion, exacerbating the fear that drives the need for control. 
To Love
Love: the act of extending the vibration of positive, integrative energy. The more one extends the vibration of Love, the more one experiences the integrative nature of Love. To the loving mind, fear does not exist; what might appear to be harmful is understood to be a call for Love. Love is grounded in harmony, balance, unity, equality, wholeness, vision and light. While we may all experience fear, Love is our inherent nature. At the cellular level, the energy created by Love sends the signal to the cells that the environment is safe. This permits the cells to function in the growth mode. Good health is maintained by the cells’ continued growth and regeneration in this field of positive energy. The wellness of each individual cell is reflected in the wellbeing of the whole. Love is unconditional. Where Love is, fear is dispelled. In Unitive Justice, Love is foundational. Love may be expressed in many ways: in joy, gratitude, generosity, compassion, hope, trust, wonder, glee, satisfaction, ecstasy, honor, inspiration, confidence, grace, contentment and so on. Healing is Love made visible. Forgiveness is an example of how this happens. The term “forgiveness” can mean different things to different people, but Unitive Justice defines forgiveness as realizing that, in the end and from a higher perspective, the harmful act was a cry for Love.  When Love is given in response, space is created to choose differently. That is the ultimate goal. Laying blame is replaced with addressing human needs and solving problems. In negative thought (fear), I am my mind’s jailer. In positive thought (Love), I am my mind’s liberator. Instead of the bondage fear fosters, Love offers freedom. As I am the one who determines what thoughts I will hold, no one can set me free but me. Recognizing I am the creator of the life I experience, I am free to exercise my power to liberate myself.

More information about unitive justice may be found at:

Alliance for Unitive Justice (

Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call for a Compassionate Revolution by Sylvia Clute.

Destiny Unveiled, a novel by Sylvia Clute.