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Unitive Justice

  Lovingkindness in action. 

3. Goal: Compliance to Mutually Beneficial Action/Wholeness



Compliance: the act of obeying an order, rule, or request; obedience to those in control.

Other terms for compliance: acquiescence, deference, resignation, submission, yielding.

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

Compliance in the Punitive System

Compliance describes the process of yielding to others. A punitive system requires compliance—compliance with rules, and compliance with the wishes of those who are superior in rank or influence. 

Punishment, often in the form of criminal or civil penalties, is a central means used by the punitive justice system to achieve compliance. This may seem a necessary means of maintaining order in society, and it is when connection has been undermined, weakened by hierarchy, judgment, self-interest, and distrust. When connection is weak, compliance has to be enforced, because the shared values and the internal moral compass they provide that could otherwise provide order and peace are not part of the punitive system.

Some people might object that, despite their positive results, strengthening connection and building trust take too long to achieve. They overlook the fact that seeking the quick compliance that punishment and revenge can achieve ignores the time it often takes to repair the further wounding and conflict that comes with a retributive response. After conflict erupts, the punishment-and-revenge approach may result in enforced compliance, but this is not peace, and perpetually enforcing compliance consumes valuable resources.

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. The resisters can cause the system to dysfunction. This teaches us that peace is a mental state that exists within the individual; it cannot be imposed from without.

This, in turn, may help us unravel at least part of the school-to-prison pipeline problem. Resistant student behavior is often explained as the youth being “at-risk,” “damaged,” or “emotionally and behaviorally disordered.” This behavior may instead be a reaction to feeling disrespected by authorities who force them to comply using demeaning tactics. 

Unitive Justice and Mutually Beneficial Action

While the objective of the punitive justice system is to punish offenders, the goal of Unitive Justice to achieve mutually beneficial action among all impacted by conflict. As these are distinctly different, the structures used to achieve each of these goals must also be different.

Through structures such as lovingkindness, co-creativity, equality and connection, Unitive Justice supports the natural flow of conflicts toward a resolution in which no one has to lose. It permits a generosity of spirit to emerge that is often squelched by punitive justice and retribution. This generosity of spirit, in turn, tends to lead to a giving and receiving among the participants that results in mutually beneficial action, an exchange that restores balance to the broken relationship, or creates balance if it did not exist before.

The unitive process supports those in conflict in recognizing their shared humanity. When this occurs, the desire to seek revenge dissipates and the desire to extend support emerges. In this context, a mutually beneficial resolution grows organically, arising without being directed or coerced. The giving and receiving that flows between or among the participants in mutually beneficial action reflects the balance being restored or established, and balance is the path to peace.

As community members learn that the community has the capacity to address conflict and make decisions using the structures of Unitive Justice, trust develops and the community is strengthened, but it does not stop there. Communities are like the cells of a nation. As communities become stronger, so does the nation. As nations are at peace within, attaining peace within the world becomes possible.