Unitive Justice

  Lovingkindness in action. 

Arcs to Unity - Short Version


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.

Other terms for rules: laws, statutes, tenets.

Values: internal moral guidance reflected in shared positive community norms that are modeled by and maintained within the community.

Rules are an important part of our everyday experience. They govern how we are to conduct ourselves and help protect us from being violated by others. We assume that our safety depends on rules, and it is true that rules are often used for this purpose. But do the rules have to be imposed by our legislators and others who are in control, or can the rules be community-based norms that are generally accepted and maintained by those who live in a community?

In a unitive system an emphasis on shared community values is the foundation of community safety and order. Values such as trust, honesty, integrity, generosity, respect, equality reflect the moral principle of lovingkindness, instead of the retributive system we now accept as the norm.


Hierarchy: a classification or organization in which people, groups, or things are ranked one above the other according to status, or perceived importance, or control. Those at the top of the hierarchy benefit from entitlement, privilege and, often, a sense of superiority. Deference to hierarchy may be based on respect, habit. or fear.

Other terms for hierarchy: pecking order, chain of command, organizational chart, class, social status.

Equality: inclusion without exception; the condition of being accorded the same value, respect, dignity, connection and humanity as all others, without exception. Roles are differentiated based on skills and knowledge, but roles do not come with entitlement, privilege or superiority.


Hierarchy is integral to our legislative, judicial and executive branches of government, our places of employment and religious institutions, our schools and families. Those at the top who are in control are necessarily separate from those at the bottom whom they are controlling—inequality is implicit in hierarchy. Hierarchy comes with privilege, entitlement and superiority for some, but not all.

Equality, inclusion without exception, the condition of being accorded the same value, respect, dignity, connection and humanity as all others, without exception, is achieved by sharing structural power horizontally. Different roles permit a community to function, but no role comes with a mantle of superiority, entitlement or privilege. Such equality is found in the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” in the Muslim teaching of wishing for others what you wish for yourself, in the admonition to “love one another as I have loved you,”[1] and in the commandment to love your enemies.[2] We also find it expressed in the Hindu greeting, Namaste, meaning “the soul in me greets the soul in you,”[3] and in the Zulu greeting, Sawbonna, meaning "I see you." None of these admonitions exclude those whom seem different.


Judgment: considered decisions intended to result in sensible conclusions, but often tainted by preconceived perceptions believed to be real.

Other terms for judgment: expectations, evaluation, assessment, test results.

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.

A punitive system relies on judgment—who is with us and who is against us? Who is good or pretty, who is evil or ugly? The problem is that judgment is often tainted by preconceived notions reflected in the projection of a negative assessment upon another person or thing, along with the belief that it is real, and not merely perceived. We often judge another to be guilty, lazy, ugly, or undesirable without realizing this is what we are doing, or that we are seeing the speck in another’s eye while being blind to the log in our own. As judgment proliferates, separation from one another deepens and human relations deteriorate.

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


Punishment: suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Other terms for punishment: discipline, retribution, revenge.

Mutually beneficial action: through honest communication, courageous vulnerability and the recognition of shared humanity, those involved in conflict discover the underlying brokenness out of which their conflict arose and discover how to transform it into action that permits all involved to go forward together; no one has to lose.

The immediate goal of a punitive system is to enforce compliance by punishing offenders, deter would be offenders through fear of consequences, and/or achieve atonement by answering harm with harm. Fairness is promised because “justice is blind,” meaning rules are enforced objectively and impartially, without preferential treatment based on wealth, race, or connections. In fact, this measure often falls short and instead the system is blind to the particular needs and circumstances of the less fortunate, those outside the hierarchy. Punishment is expeditious, a quick fix, but often fails as a long-term solution.

In a unitive system, conflict naturally flows toward resolution through an exchange that inspires honesty, builds trust and achieves mutually beneficial action that restores/creates balance and addresses the underlying brokenness out of which the conflict arose. This leads to mutually beneficial action that addresses root causes and restores balance, and no one has to lose.

Punishment has been an aspect of the human experience for so long that we easily conclude that it is part of our human nature. However, when a healing option is available, many people choose it over punishment, indicating we are not hard wired for punishment, after all.


Episode: an incident, event, occurrence.

Other terms for episode: the crime, the wrongdoing, the harm done.

Context: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed;[1] the systemic conditions that give rise to individual, similar or repeated incidents and their particular consequences.

Every episode has a context out of which the episode arises. 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. If we expand our lens far enough, we see patterns in the context that include all of us. It is within the context that we discover the underlying separation that fuels harmful episodes. It is by addressing the underlying separation that we restore connection.

A punitive system narrows the focus to particular episodes then uses them to charge, convict and punish the wrongdoer, while problems in the context are ignored and harm repeatedly occurs. A punitive system must focus on episodes and limit consideration of the context, lest its serious flaws be discovered, resulting in its collapse. In the courts, the lens is narrowed using the rules of evidence to exclude “collateral evidence”. In the educational system, the lens is narrowed using research that only considers student conduct and/or achievement, not the social or cultural context of their lives.

In a unitive system, a wide lens is used to consider both the episode and context. The episode is used as the portal to discovering the context, the underlying pattern of separation out of which that episode arose, so connection can be restored and future episodes curtailed. At its deepest roots, we discover that each act falls within one of two orders of thought: love or a call for love. If a call for love is heard as an attack, it is answered with yet another call for love in the form of a counter attack. The form is an attack, but the content is a call for love. We can seek for love alone, but it can only be found together. Connection, not separation, is who we are.

The same episode that the punitive system uses to arrest, judge and punish is used in the unitive system as the portal to discovering the context. The episode is like the shovel we use to excavate the underlying pattern of separation out of which the event arose, so connection can be restored and future episodes curtailed.

The context holds the energetic residue accumulated over time from many conflicts, among many people. It includes choices made long ago, but whose 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.


Proportional revenge: the level of punishment is scaled relative to the severity of the crime or harm done. Many assume the punishment does not have to be exactly equivalent to the crime, but retributivists differ on what measure of revenge is required to achieve justice.

Other terms for proportional revenge: an eye for an eye, tit for tat, getting even, just desserts.

Lovingkindness: the extension of kindness and compassion toward all living beings based on one’s moral duty as a human to do so.

We often use common phrases, like “the punishment fits the crime,” “I want to get even,” or “it’s tit for tat,” without realizing that these terms are describing the moral principle that underpins a punitive system, namely 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.” For proportional revenge to work, it requires two standards by which we measure whether the test of morality has been met—one for “us” and one for “them.” This double moral standard permits us to claim the harm done by us, the “good” people, is moral, while condemning the harm done by those whom we deem to be “evil” or “immoral,” even when both are doing essentially the same thing! This flawed moral compass tends to produce morally flawed results. 

A unitive system is based on the moral principle of lovingkindness, a mandate to extend kindness and compassion to others, without exception. Whatever the circumstances, harm to another is not condoned as moral. When we are nonviolent even to our adversaries, we offer to them what we want for ourselves—lovingkindness. The power of lovingkindness lies in this internal moral consistency.


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.

Other terms for control: oversight, dominion, domination, regulation, guidance, management, supervision.

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

The punitive justice system is designed to maintain control using punishment and often, physical might. It’s the one tool in the punitive toolbox.

Control depends on separation, but humans are gregarious, 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.

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.


Distrust: suspicion or doubt of the honesty or reliability of another.

Other terms for distrust: mistrust, suspicion, cynicism, skepticism, disbelief, lack of confidence.

Trust: relational interdependence built on shared values that strengthens relationships and makes human interactions more functional.

The dualistic worldview (i.e., “us versus them,” the “good people versus the bad people”) upon which the punitive system depends fuels distrust. Trust depends on transparency, but pitting the interests of one side against the other as the punitive system does tends to promote secrecy. When a mistake is made, trust is supported by admitting it and taking responsibility, but the punitive system discourages “admissions against interest.” The win/lose nature of the punitive system undermines trust because the stakes are so high.

The structural elements of the unitive system build trust. Trust is greatest when values are strong, it is strengthened by inclusion, insight, mutually beneficial action, the moral principle of lovingkindness, co-creativity, honesty, community, synergy and unity, making for functional relationships and strong communities. As trust builds on the local level, the nation begins to experience a heightened level of trust.


Deception: the act of causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid[2]; giving a misleading or untruthful account of conduct, intentions or events.

Other terms for deception: half-truth, exaggeration, tall tale, crock, little white lie.

Honesty: the act of giving a fair and truthful account of conduct, intentions or events.

In a court of law, each witness is sworn to tell the truth, but when other considerations are more important, truth is sacrificed. In a criminal case the prosecutor must carry the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt without the defendant’s help so even a guilty defendant may plead "not guilty" in order to shift this burden to the prosecutor/state. In civil cases, a party does not have to answer questions about certain protected admissions against interest, another example of the protection against self-incrimination being placed above discovering the truth in the most direct way. 

Attorneys readily admonish their clients to never say things like “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake”—to anyone. In the principal's office kid's consistently contend, "I didn't do it, he did," even when they know better. In a punitive system where the realization and acceptance of personal responsibility is punished or leads to loss or harm, the safer strategy is to deceive or avoid the truth—and this principle applies throughout a punitive system, not only its courts.

A unitive system depends on honesty and its structures, like shared values, equality, discernment, connection, trust, create a safe environment to be honest. Truthfulness helps us recognize our shared humanity, discover the underlying conflict dynamic out of which a harmful event emerged and achieve mutually beneficial action. Truthfulness strengthens relationships and is essential for peace.


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, a dualistic worldview.

Other terms for self-interest: self-absorption, self-centeredness, self-involvement, egoism, egotism, narcissism, disconnection, disunion.

Community: a shared sense of connection grounded in the belief that the whole is undivided, that humans share one humanity and all are connected; living out of one’s values as a way of being with others, regardless of the context.


Adversarial: characterized by conflict, opposition, argument.

Other terms for adversarial: antagonistic, combative, challenging, oppositional, opposing, the enemy, rivalry. 

Synergistic: the combined power achieved by working together in collaboration rather than separately. The result is a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

In a punitive system, one person’s interest is pitted against the interest of the other side until one interest wins and the other loses. Conflict, opposition and argument are endemic. Because it is so pervasive, the adversarial nature of the punitive system is generally taken for granted so we do not question the theory that this is a good way to discover the truth, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary. Moreover, victory in this adversarial arena does nothing to repair the underlying broken relationships, and may be even make then worse, continuing the sense of loss.

A unitive system is designed to unite the power of everyone engaged in an endeavor in a synergistic process; in a system where everyone naturally works together, rather than separately. In a unitive system a breakdown is seen, not from a perspective of judgment and jockeying for the winning position, but as a matter of problem solving so such harm is not repeated and the community is strengthened. Synergy builds on our shared power and connection as the conflict naturally flows toward mutually beneficial action—efficiently and inexpensively.


Duality: the state of having two parts in sustained opposition; e.g., us vs. them, good vs. evil.

Other terms for duality: mental fragmentation, bifurcation.

Unity: the state of being harmoniously interconnected; the non-dual nature of self and all of creation.

Duality and unity are both foundations for systems of belief by which one lives life. Each worldview guides the aspirations and actions of those who embrace it. The worldview of duality is grounded in fear and the worldview of unity is grounded in love. One leads to war, the other to peace. When you believe you live in duality, unity appears irrational and inaccessible, and vice versa. What we believe, we see. Such is the real law of cause and effect. 

When we recognize that the world is not dualistic, we wake up in the unity worldview. This worldview understands that there is a reality more fundamental than the physical realm, an all-encompassing unity in which everything is interconnected and balance is perpetually maintained. Separation does not exit. What happens in any part affects the whole, thus we demonstrate our "specialness" as individuals, not by excluding others, but rather by inclusion--inclusion without exception.

As we awaken to our non-dual nature, we confront a paradigm shift that requires a re-design at every level: our identity, our understanding of individuality, our understanding of “other,” our core beliefs. It also requires that we redesign our institutions to comport with the our reality.

In your veins, and in mine, there is only one blood, the same life that animates us all! Since one unique mother earth begat us all, where did we learn to divide ourselves?

                                                                                                                             —Kabir, 15th Century Sufi Poet

[1] Dictionary, https://www.google.com/search?rls=aso&client=gmail&q=definition%20of%20context%20&authuser=0.

[2] Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/deception.