Insight into the realms of Oneness and duality is not what I expected to emerge from my career as a trial attorney. Nonetheless, it was my years of legal training and experience in the courtroom that opened this door. When I realized that clients came to me with broken relationships and what I did made it worse, I began to search for a better way. This, in turn, eventually led me to recognize that there are two distinct models of justice: the punitive model to which I had devoted my career, and another kind that promotes healing and transformation. As the journey continued, I saw how these two models of justice are reflections of a much deeper order: the blindness of duality gently held within the omnipresence of Oneness.
I now realize that how we respond to crime, conflict and aggression is, in fact, a manifestation of the two choices that this deeper order perpetually presents. We can choose retribution and revenge, the us-versus-them model of punitive justice that defines winning as making someone else lose—the duality approach. Or we can choose healing, reconciliation and forgiveness, the unitive model of justice that honors our connectedness and reflects loving-kindness—the Oneness approach.
From Revenge to Healing
A compelling example of how Oneness and duality manifest in the realm of a legal case is the journey taken by Thomas Ann Hines, a Texas woman whose son was shot to death by a young man in a carjacking attempt. She recounts that for the first seven years after the trial that ended in a life sentence for the offender, she was angry and prayed for the murderer to die. Then she came to realize that she was killing herself with her prayers for vengeance.
Thomas Ann entered a restorative justice program called Transformative Justice and began a year-long process that included her son’s murderer, as both prepared to meet one another. In correspondence prior to their meeting, he warned her not to expect him to say he was sorry for what he had done. Nonetheless, this year laid the foundation for the two of them to see the murder of her son within a larger context than they had when it was committed.
When the day to meet arrived, Thomas Ann could not imagine what words she would say to the man who had taken so much from her. As they were seated across from one another separated only by a small table, she began to tell him about her son, the things they had done together, how precious he—her only child—had been to her. Her heartfelt honesty began to disarm the man to whom she spoke.
He listened. “I didn’t realize . . . how stupid it was,” he began to say. He confessed that he had given no thought to any of it, before or since that fateful night. This process of honest sharing led both the perpetrator and Thomas Ann to temporarily set judgment aside.
As their talk was coming to an end, Thomas Ann heard a voice in her head say, “Reach out and offer your hand to him.” Her reply, in her head, was, “No, that’s the hand that held the gun.” The voice again said, “Reach out and offer your hand to him.” She thought in response, “I can’t do it by myself.”
Thomas Ann closed her eyes and bowed her head, then extended her hand across the table. The man who had ended her son’s life reached out and took her hand. In this moment of connectedness, he put his head down on their joined hands and wept. Within them both, there was a shift beyond the bodily level to the place where forgiveness is the only choice one would consider and instantaneous healing occurs. The bitterness, even the misunderstanding, the distance between these two human beings from vastly different worlds, vanished. In seeing the humanity in each other, they knew they had certain interests in common. Where forgiveness has occurred, there must be Oneness among people, for nothing remains to keep them apart.
© 2010 by Sylvia Clute, an author, former trial attorney, formerly president of the Restorative Justice Association of Virginia, and now practicing collaborative law in Richmond, Virginia, www.sylviaclute.com. This article is based on a chapter in her ground-breaking book, Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality, A Call for A Compassionate Revolution, published by Hampton Roads Publishing, www.hrpub.com, and distributed by Red Wheel/Weiser, redwheelwiser.com.