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.

Values: internal guidance grounded in shared community norms that are modeled by and maintained within the community to guide its members toward unity. Values are reflected in individual self-containment and inner poise.

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.

Equality: inclusiveness without exception; the condition of being accorded the same value, respect, dignity, connection and humanity as all others. 

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 defined as inclusiveness 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] 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.

Discernment: the ability to understand people, issues and contexts clearly, be they seen or unseen, spoken or unspoken, and free of the projection of one’s own judgment. Another term for this might be “mindful presence.”

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.

Discernment is a well-honed tool for getting at the truth. As discernment deepens, we see clearly into pain caused and experienced, bringing our shared humanity into view. This opens up new possibilities for resolution that were not previously seen, or perhaps are not even possible to imagine while judgment and projection led us to demand only an eye-for-an-eye retribution. Only discernment will lead to peace at home and abroad.


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

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.


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.

Power: laterally shared influence exercised through the force of character and shared values.

Eskimos have over 50 words to describe snow. The Sanskrit language has over 400 words for various states of consciousness. In western culture, such measured distinctions do not exist when we consider people of influence. We can describe both Hitler and Gandhi as “powerful” men, without noting that they stood at opposite ends of the spectrum between violence and nonviolence. 

In order to communicate effectively about punitive and unitive systems we must have language that easily distinguishes between such gross differences. We can begin to distinguish between the type of influence that Gandhi and other nonviolent leaders have on their followers and the influence that Hitler and other tyrants exercise by using the terms “power” and “control” to make this distinction. 

We easily recognize the process of dominating others and restricting their freedom through physical, mental, or emotional coercion in the term control. Control is a territorial concept that is temporary, fleeting, and unpredictable. Control can be exerted over people, resources, information and enforcement mechanisms, but it requires constant enforcement to quell rebellion. Hitler exercised control.

Using the term “control” in this way permits us to reserve the term “power” for those who draw others to join them because of their virtue. Power is exercised by acting in accord with shared values, such as integrity, honesty, respect and generosity; by doing unto others as one would want done to oneself; by being faithful to the moral principle of lovingkindness. Gandhi possessed power.


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.

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.


Separation: the belief that alienated, detached, disassociated and competing levels divide all that exists; life is a win/lose, binary experience.

Connection: the belief that joining is without limit because all minds are joined; the whole is undivided and humans share one humanity.

U.S. culture is known for its celebration of the individual, a belief that implicitly minimizes our interconnectedness, while failing to note that the functional value of this belief requires that it be a shared belief. Indeed, thinking separation is real supports the dualistic system because it is one of our most widely shared beliefs—an internal contradiction that demonstrates that our fundamental nature is connection. Separation is nonexistent. To build a system on separation is to build a house on sand.

A unitive system is built on our interconnectedness. If we expand the lens we eventually see patterns that involve all of us; our brokenness cannot be dealt with as individuals because we do not control our own fate independent of the fate of others. When we harm another we harm ourselves in some way, even when it is not readily apparent. We may build walls to separate us but communication between what cannot be divided is always available. The gift of connection awaits where separation ends. Only truth is true.


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

Trust: relational interdependence built on shared values that strengthens relationships and makes human interactions more functional. Trust is built one interaction at a time and may be lost by one violation of the values that hold it in place. When we trust, we accept the risk of being betrayed.

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 equality, discernment, mutually beneficial action, the moral principle of lovingkindness, power, connection, 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.


Distortion: the act of giving a misleading or untruthful account of conduct, intentions or events.

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 avoid, or sometimes even hide, 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.


Adversarial: characterized by conflict, opposition, argument.

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.


Episode: an incident, event, occurrence.

Epicenter: center of a disturbance field from which episodes emerge and radiate; the systemic context that gives rise to individual, similar or repeated incidents.

Every episode has an epicenter, 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 epicenter that include all of us. It is within the epicenter 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 epicenter are ignored and harm repeatedly occurs. A punitive system must focus on episodes and limit consideration of the epicenter, 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 epicenter. The episode is used as the portal to discovering the epicenter, 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.


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

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