The Principles of Nonjustice

The principles of nonjustice first appeared in the book entitled Suing for Peace: A Guide for Resolving Life’s Conflicts, by James P. Kimmel, Jr., J.D. (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads 2005). In this book, the author, an attorney who had devoted his career to the pursuit of justice, recounts the story of his unsettling discovery that the more justice he won for himself and his clients, the less content he and his clients seemed to be after the initial “high” of getting justice wore off. As he explored this paradox over the course of fourteen years, he came to the conclusion that the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of happiness are locked in an irreconcilable conflict, and that this conflict afflicts all humanity, producing profound suffering and violence as we continue to pursue justice in the misguided belief that it will secure our happiness.

Harvard psychiatrist and expert on violence James Gilligan, M.D., put it this way in his book, Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes (New York: Putnam 1996) 11-12: “The first lesson that tragedy teaches…is that all violence is an attempt to achieve justice, or what the violent person perceives as justice, for himself or for whomever it is on whose behalf he is violent…. Thus, the attempt to achieve and maintain justice, or to undo or prevent injustice, is the one and only universal cause of violence.”

For Kimmel, the conflict between the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of happiness placed his career as a lawyer at odds with his desire to lead a happy, peaceful life. To resolve this crisis, he embarked upon a legal, psychological, and spiritual journey lasting more than a decade that lead him through scientific studies of the human brain, the justice teachings of the world’s great religions, and, finally, in Suing for Peace, yielded five teachings about justice and happiness that resolved his personal crisis and that have the potential to restore peace and happiness for others as well. These five teachings are set forth below.

The Five Teachings About Justice And Happiness

  1. Seeking justice is the cause of human suffering in our world, not the cure. “Seeking justice” has become a phrase used to excuse acts of vengeance, retribution, and payback, creating a society that condones and encourages revenge-seeking by confusing the true, noble meaning of justice, which is fundamental fairness and equity for all people. As a result, we now live in a world where school children kill each other to get justice, where adults engage in every form of malice in the name of justice, where terrorists indiscriminately massacre thousands of people under the delusions of justice, and where nations go to war waving the blood-red flag of justice. All hurtful acts are motivated by the pursuit of justice. Hence, justice is the primary cause of human-inflicted suffering in our world.
  2. Many are addicted to seeking justice against their enemies. Despite the suffering we inflict upon ourselves by pursuing justice, we continue to pursue justice because many are literally addicted to it and see no viable alternative. Recent scientific studies of the human brain have shown that the same pleasure centers of the brain that activate when a drug addict takes narcotics also activate when people seek justice in the form of revenge against wrongdoers (by meting out “just” punishments). Like a narcotic, the pursuit of justice offers us fleeting intense bursts of pleasure that only leave us feeling worse and wanting more. Like a narcotics pusher, the justice system encourages us to pursue more and more justice, producing an insatiable demand for itself and leaving a trail of suffering in its wake. Justice-seeking may be for humanity the cruelest addiction of all.
  3. The most important trial of our lives each day is the trial of the people who wrong us. During this trial, we must choose between justice and happiness. If we choose to pursue justice against our enemies, we inevitably cause ourselves only more suffering and unhappiness. If we choose not to pursue justice against our enemies, we end our suffering and restore our happiness. Thus, it is our freedom that is at stake during this trial, not the freedom of the people who wrong us. The outcome of this trial will determine our health, happiness and peace of mind; it will affect our relationships, family, job, nation and world.
  4. The secret to resolving any conflict and restoring your happiness is to stop pursuing justice against your enemies…and start practicing nonjustice. If seeking justice in the form of revenge is the cause of human suffering, not the cure, then what should we do? Some wisdom traditions teach forgiveness; but many people find forgiveness too difficult, too Pollyannaish, or too spiritual for a secular society. Kimmel discovered a powerful alternative. It is called nonjustice. Similar to Gandhi’s teaching of nonviolence, nonjustice means to abstain from the pursuit of justice when responding to past wrongs. It is not forgiveness–there is no requirement or expectation that the victim forgive his or her perpetrator. Rather, it is a deliberate decision, taken solely for the victim’s benefit and in his or her highest self-interest, not to gratify the craving for justice in the form of revenge. For just as a hammer cannot avoid “experiencing” the impact of striking a nail, so too a victim cannot avoid experiencing the impact of making a perpetrator “pay” for the wrongs of the past. To practice nonjustice is to stop hurting yourself so that healing can finally take place and happiness can be restored.
  5. The secret to practicing nonjustice is suing for peace, not justice. If you sue your enemies for justice, you will win only your own suffering. But if you sue your enemies for peace, you will win your happiness. Suing for peace can be accomplished by submitting your disputes to the free Nonjustice System instead of the revenge-based traditional justice system. The Nonjustice System contains 9 simple but powerful steps you can take right now for resolving conflicts, breaking the justice addiction, and restoring peace and happiness.