Unitive Justice

  Lovingkindness in action. 

5. From Control to Co-Creativity


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 consistent enforcement.

Co-Creativity: the relational process of bringing into ordered existence something new that was not known in advance. Co-creativity depends on the coherence that arises from cultivating shared values and sharing power laterally.

Creating Language for this Discussion

Before we continue, there is an important distinction that our usual way of speaking does not make—securing control through physical might versus securing co-creativity through shared power and connection. This critical distinction can be made by using the terms “power” and “control” differently.

The compelling and dynamic term “power” comports well with the quality possessed by those who draw others to join with them of their own free will, without resorting to control. When the term is used in this way, power is earned through one’s integrity, honesty, respect, extending forgiveness, remorse, kindness, and generosity, by doing unto others as one would want done to oneself. Mahatma Gandhi was a man who possessed power. Martin Luther King, Jr. possessed power. One with power knows peace, as did Buddha and Christ and many of their followers.

The term “control” fits well when describing the process of dominating others, restricting their freedom through physical, mental, emotional or spiritual coercion. Control is achieved through the use of attack, might, strength, force, coercion, violence, mechanisms, drive, or pressure. 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 control will be lost when his back is turned. Slave masters, dictators, and occupiers know this all too well.

Control can also be lost when it is taken away by those who possess greater might, as in the case of the slave states that lost the Civil War to the Union, and Hitler who lost World War II to the Allied Nations. Prior to his defeat, Hitler exercised control.

When I hear Hitler and Gandhi both described as “powerful” men, it seems curious that in our culture we have no terms to easily distinguish between the opposite extremes of violence and non-violence that these two men represent. Using the terms “control” and “power” to make this distinction helps create language for the larger discussion about punitive and unitive justice.

Punitive Justice Relies on Physical Might to Maintain Control

The punitive justice system is designed to maintain control using punishment and often, physical might. It’s the one tool in the toolbox. The extent to which justice in the U.S. depends on physical might and force to maintain control is reflected in the statistics. Over a million men and women serve as U.S. law enforcement personnel employed on a full-time basis by state and local governments.[1] The 2.4 million U.S. inmates are held in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities and 3,283 local jails.[2]

Fear plays a central role in the dynamic of control. Fear motivates the desire for control. 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.

Nonviolent civil disobedience is a particular form of rebellion against control. Because control depends on compliance and collapses without it, people who overcome fear of the consequences have the power to displace control through noncompliance. Using peaceful civil disobedience, the compliance that control depends on is lost and those seeking to impose control have no means to enforce their will. Those seeking to impose control are disarmed.

Using control to enforce compliance is not limited to the justice system. As a nation, the United States struggles between the policy of using physical might to achieve control and the policy of “soft power” or diplomacy to earn respect and influence, i.e., power. So far, control has been the dominant strategy. The United States’ military budget, well over $500 billion annually,[3] constitutes nearly 40% of the world’s military expenditures and it has over two million men and women on active and reserve duty.[4] By comparison, little is spent on diplomacy or the State Department.

The total budget for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is around $58.8 billion, including $19.2 billion in wartime spending called Overseas Contingency Operations.[5] The Trump administration proposed cutting the State Department budget by at least 30% and raising the military budget by 10%, adding about $54 billion to military spending.[6] That 10% increase is nearly equal to the entire State Department annual budget.

It is worth noting that a call for nonviolence may sometimes be a ruse used by those seeking to restore control, and not those radiating power. When riots erupted in Baltimore in 2015 and President Obama called for an end to the violence, for example, Natasha Lennard observed that, "Calls for an end to the riots are not calls for peace, but a return to violent order."[7] 

Another writer, Bruce A. Dixon, pointed out the inconsistency of President Obama’s call for the poor people of Baltimore to remain peaceful, nonviolent and respectful of the law when he, himself, relies on violence. Dixon wrote:

"This is a notion that should either make us laugh out loud, or cry, it's hard to decide which. President Obama you see, also claims the law entitles him to drone-bomb hundreds, perhaps thousands of civilians across Asia and Africa whose names he doesn't even know based upon their “profiles” or their proximity to supposed “terrorists,” also frequently unknown by name. The president, along with his outgoing and incoming attorneys general assure us this is all perfectly legal.[8] We have to take their word for it, because they've made the precise legal language of the rule they says permits this classified – a secret."[9]

In fact, we often fail to realize that the government’s example of maintaining control using punishment sets an example that is then replicated farther down the hierarchy. As people experience punitive justice in the courts and youth experience it in schools that apply zero tolerance discipline, people learn that justice means using punishment to achieve control. When they feel wronged, this is the model of justice they are likely to apply because it is all they have experienced. We have yet to measure the cost to society of the people mirroring the punitive model of justice that our government employs.

While the punitive system is designed to maintain control and a system for imposing punishment is part of the structure, there is another way. Instead of seeking control, we can create a system in which co-creativity is part of the structure.

Unitive Justice Inspires Co-Creativity

Control depends on separation, but human being are relational beings, communal, dependent upon community for existence. Even the nine-month period of gestation depends on community for sustenance and safety of the mother, and thus of the unborn infant. We are united into families, communities, organizations and countries. The individual excels only in the context of a nurturing community. When the lattice of individualism and communitarianism is bound together in one united system—the community providing care and safety for individuals while individuals contribute their best to community—co-creativity emerges.

Instead of imposing control, unitive justice inspires co-creativity. Co-creativity brings into ordered existence new ideas, designs and institutions as it enlivens community. Co-creativity requires no physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual threat; it involves no compulsion. While fear plays a central role in the dynamic of control, co-creativity thrives where fear has been dispelled by love. Co-creativity depends on an environment of coherence where trust and connection thrive.

Developing trust and connection requires an initial outlay in effort, but it results in a community whose members use their co-creativity to produce a mutually valued outcome. Trust and connection permit new ideas to be freely exchanged.

One process that supports co-creativity indirectly is using the circle process for addressing conflicts as they arise. When this becomes a part of the culture, conflict no longer gives rise to stress or strained relationships. Instead, community members come to welcome the lessons learned and the opportunity for introspection and growth that the circle offers. A 30-year member of a community where Unitive Justice and the circle process for addressing conflict was introduced and then made part of the community culture reported the following collateral benefit:

“It has changed us greatly for the good, and it has changed all of our relationships with the Director. He seems to have relaxed and become more accessible knowing that he no longer has to be the one to bring resolution to our community conflicts. More people are calling upon the community for the circle process and that allows the Director to be more of a friend than a judging authoritative presence. We all feel it and, as a result, are taking more pleasure in living together as a community."[10]  

Co-creativity depends on mistakes being seen as learning opportunities, not a reason to be punished. Punishing failures squelches co-creativity. Co-creativity does not arise out of an environment that places a premium on stability and the status quo, but rather one that rewards risk taking. Encouraging debate and walking into disagreement fuels co-creativity. Disagreement among community members is to be expected, especially in periods of transition. If a circle process for addressing conflict is part of the culture, the fear of breakdowns dissipates.

The environment can also foster co-creativity. Space in which community members have to interact with one another, open spaces, comfortable, bright, inviting places to share food and exchange ideas foster co-creativity. Even if these are amenities that are not immediately available, adding nice touches to what is available will help stimulate co-creativity. Permitting flexibility in how and when things are done helps accommodates the different rhythms of different people. Being open to diversity attracts creative people with varied interests and commitments.

Co-creativity requires neither hierarchy nor obedience, as it rests on the moral authority of lovingkindness and is sustained by the strength of harmony, balance, and inherent order. Equality—inclusion without exception—is essential for a co-creative community, where each member is given time to share his/her thoughts and to know they are heard.

Co-creativity emerges when circumstances call it into being, as the occasion demands. Co-creativity permits the community to evolve in lovingkindness, without constantly being diverted to enforce control.

The arc from control to co-creativity is a shift toward valuing what is not material, as this means that fear of losing material possessions does not stand in the way. What is not material cannot be taken away. When we replace fear with love, we are not subject to control, and this enables us to disarm those who must rely on force and physical might to maintain their control as we co-create a new reality.

* * * * *

In the video below, we see the power that Dr. King radiated as he spoke to a large audience about his journey to the mountain top. It was his last public speech. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oehry1JC9Rk)

[1] University of Alaska Justice Center, U.S. State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies Census 2008: A BJS Report, at http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/forum/28/2-3summerfall2011/f_lawenf_census.html, last visited Feb. 15, 2015.

[2] Peter Wagner and Leah Sakala, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie, (Prison Policy Initiative, March 12, 2014), at http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie.html, last visited Feb. 15, 2015.  

[3] Wilipedia, “Military Budget of the United States, “ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_budget_of_the_United_States, last visited Sept. 9, 2017.

[4] Wikipedia, “United States Armed Forces,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Armed_Forces, last visited Feb. 15, 2015.

[5] Wikipedia.

[6] Conor Finnegan, ”What slashing the State Department budget by one-third would really mean,” abcnews.go.com, Mar 1, 2017, at  http://abcnews.go.com/International/slashing-state-department-budget/story?id=45841002

[8] This is an example of rules being written for the benefit of the rule makers—those in control.

[9] Bruce A. Dixon, “Lawless President Obama Chides Baltimore ‘Criminals And Thugs,’ Ignores Savagery Of Baltimore Police,” Black Agenda Report, Apr. 29, 2015 at http://www.blackagendareport.com/nonviolence-and-hypocrisy, last visited Oct. 10, 2015.

[10] Email from Ahva Lenay, August 16, 2017.