363 online
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 16 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/9/10

What Do We Mean, Justice?

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   15 comments
Follow Me on Twitter     Message Sylvia Clute
Become a Fan
  (20 fans)

How often in movies, on television and in video games, do we watch the so-called good people attacking the presumed bad people without realizing the good people and the bad people are doing the same thing, attacking and killing their enemies? We munch on our popcorn as the good people make the bad people hurt as much as the good people feel they have been hurt, and cheer when a lose-lose situation for all is deemed a win for the good. But if this is justice, why doesn't it lead to peace, instead of one attack followed by another in the next sequel?

One reason justice so often fails to produce the happy ending we expect is because of widespread confusion about what the term justice actually means. Does it mean impartiality? Fairness? Getting even? Killing the wrongdoers? Reconciliation? Forgiveness? Without a clear definition, it is possible for authority, decorum and technicalities to masquerade as justice, even when substance is lacking. We may fail to discern the difference.

How has our deep-seated confusion around justice prevailed for so long? As a former trial attorney, I can speak to that. In law school, I was told I would be learning the best legal system in the world, a system of punitive justice. When clients encounter a breach or a conflict, that system offers them punishment and revenge (punitive justice) as the way to address the breach. When they go home, to school and to work and they feel wronged, they model what they have experienced, they seek punishment and revenge.

Our schools have started calling for "Zero Tolerance," teaching our children at an early age how quickly we, in this culture, seek punishment and revenge. When they are bullied, or someone steals their sweetheart, they seek punishment and revenge.

When a breach in a relationship or the violation of community norms occurs, we often fail to recognize that there are two distinct models of justice to choose between.

On the one hand, our goal can be to punish the guilty, to get even, to seek revenge. This punitive type of justice seeks the imposition of control to enforce compliance; its answer to harm is more harm. The "justice" in this scenario is that the harm you do to those who have harmed you is to be proportional, i.e., the eyes gouged out are to be approximately equal to the teeth knocked out. It is this--proportional revenge--that the set of scales that we use to symbolize our justice system represents. Another way we express this is to say "the punishment must fit the crime." While this punitive form of justice requires a degree of restraint that definitely makes it superior to barbarism, we can do better.

Unitive justice, a far better choice, works according to an internal design that matches accountability with the harm or conflict being addressed. All participants treat one another with dignity and respect. The interested parties get to hear and be heard so all points of view are considered, enhancing the possibility of resolution and goodwill in their future relations. Compassion and loving kindness are at the heart of this form of justice, and the outcome is a benefit to all.

This unitive model of justice is emerging and maturing. It can now be found in restorative justice practices such as victim-offender conferencing and community conferencing, in some collaborative practices, in transformative mediation and transformational justice, in healing circles done in both public and private settings, in schools where restorative processes are used as the disciplinary program, and in cutting edge social service agencies that now use family conferencing to address family crises. It is even being seen as a process for addressing disputes in land use agencies, tax agencies and other agencies where disputes arise.

Next Page  1  |  2

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

Rate It | View Ratings

Sylvia Clute Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Follow Me on Twitter     Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

The Moral Dilemma of Military Service

Lessons from the Stanford Prison Experiment

Time for Another Civil Rights Movement?

Punitive Justice Distilled: the Stanford Prison Experiment

The Death Penalty: Un-Christian Barbarism

How Did Our Criminal Law System Become So Broken?

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend