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Cuzzo, Maria Stalzer Wyant. The Code of the Peaceful Warrior: A Restorative Justice Response to Recent Events

Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States, some asked Maria Cuzzo (lawyer, teacher, and practitioner of mediation and conflict resolution) about the possibilities of a mediation or restorative justice response to the events.

I am a teacher and practitioner of mediation and conflict resolution, as well as a professor of legal studies and lawyer.  Some have asked me about meditative/restorative justice responses to the events on the East Coast.  In wrestling with that question, I went back to first principles to see if I could state what it is I believe about restorative justice and to test whether I still believed those things in light of New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.  I find that I do, with a deeper sense of peace and calm than I thought possible.  From such principles, one can derive responsive actions.  But beginning from some base of principle has value.  So here is my code of the peaceful warrior (and I choose those words with deliberation and intent to appropriate, or "take back," the concept of warrior from the military view to a traditional view):


I believe that PEACEFUL WARRIORS exist, that many peoples around the world honor warriors in a peaceful sense, and that being a peaceful warrior in present contexts and times means:

  • Staying in our authentic power, rather than responding based on another's exercise of power;
  • Showing up and choosing to be present, rather than withdrawing, avoiding or running;
  • Extending honor and respect to others, rather than beating our chests or sharpening our swords;
  • Being responsible, accountable and disciplined, rather than howling our rage or lashing out just to do something;
  • Committing to using force only to appropriate levels, defensively and always with regret;
  • Aligning our words with our actions, rather than speaking rashly or acting quickly. (concepts drawn and modified from Angeles Arrien, THE FOUR-FOLD WAY, 1993)


These characteristics allow us to exercise powerful leadership in critical moments.


I believe in aggressively and definitively pursuing the agenda of PEACE as a way of being and moving in the world despite the presence of terror, fear and death.  Peace is not passive or weak.  Choosing to proceed deliberately and with honor is an active, engaged response to violence.


I believe that we can FIGHT honorably for restoration, accountability and peace without resorting to excessive violence or institutionalizing fear-based living.


I believe that human beings have incredible abilities to HEAL the most injurious and unbelievable harms.  We do this by acknowledging the harms, identifying the victims, responding to their concerns, holding offenders accountable for their actions and committing ourselves to the ultimate goals of reconciliation, restoration and renewal, the earmarks of healing.  We do this within ourselves as individuals, with our close circle of loved ones, with our communities, with our nation and with our world.  We do this at multiple levels simultaneously.  We do it all the time.  We do it intuitively.  We know a lot about this, and it is time to apply those lessons to terrorism as well.  Collectively, the power to heal exceeds the power of terror.


I believe that ACCOUNTABILITY does not necessarily mean punishment, retribution, power, military might or war.   Under no circumstances does accountability involve action without a concept of universal justice.  Accountability involves fairly and properly identifying perpetrators, clearly and honestly naming offenses, reasonably attempting to apprehend appropriate accused persons, allowing opportunity for hearing and explanation, and imposing consequences only after proper procedure.  Accountability does not involve widespread identification of diffuse "enemies", fostering a spirit of attack and danger, protecting "security" without clear definition, expanding the arena of offender beyond what is known and provable or prematurely rushing to act without clearly knowing who, what, when, where and why we are moving.


I believe that the INFLICTION OF ADDITIONAL HARM only impairs the journey toward living whole, free lives.  "Do no harm" is a restorative principle.  And even when harm has been done to us, the equal and free exchange of additional harm rarely solves the problem.


I believe in the inherent goodness and power of FORGIVENESS within the context of appropriate REMEMBRANCE.  Forgiveness is an act that can be engaged in with one, some or all.  Forgiveness is possible in every situation, no matter the offense.  Forgiveness is a positive, powerful, affirmative action that can empower those injured and confront those perpetrating injury.  Powerful acts of forgiveness change the world everyday, and have changed entire societies over time.


I believe in FOCUSING ON THE OPPORTUNITIES that tragedy always provides loving families and friendship circles, restored relationships, renewed community spirit, faith in higher powers, stronger commitments to deep, core values like freedom, justice, mercy and peace, and the enduring power of hope.  Tragedy always provokes us to look into the mirror of our own lives and our collective life to see where we are authentic and where we are hypocrites.  This tragedy is no exception.  Out of such searing examination, new insights and lessons can always be learned that change life in positive ways.


I believe in JUSTICE and ACCOUNTABILITY being privileged over punishment, retribution and power.  The word "justice" does not mean "punishment," although sometimes it involves some degree of consequences for deliberate wrongs done.


I believe that JUSTICE involves due process, fairness of hearing, submission of dispute to international tribunals and listening to the entire story prior to acting as prosecutors, judges and executioners.  No matter what the provocation, the American system of law demands that we practice what we preach and be willing to exhaust a just response to terrorists, even in the face of ongoing danger.  If we choose to execute our will through tangible power right now, rather than honor our own code of laws and procedure, we risk a greater endangerment of both our global reputation and our national self-esteem.


I believe that PEOPLE ARE CAPABLE AND COMPETENT TO PARTICIPATE IN DECISION-MAKING ABOUT TERROR.  When confronted with terror, many people freeze in fear and leave it to others (i.e. leaders or significant others) to make decisions and tell us what to do.  I also believe that this is often a mistake, as we lose our voice and ability to impact on decision-making.  We all have decisions to make in these times.  Feeling the freeze may be necessary, but with appropriate talking and time spent in restoring inner movement, we are all capable of engaging and participating in the critical decision-making that is occurring around us.


I believe that PEOPLE ARE CAPABLE OF SEEING EACH OTHER FOR WHO THEY REALLY ARE AND NOT WHO OR WHAT WE MAY THINK OTHERS MIGHT BE. We can pause, see, recognize, acknowledge, and engage with others (even foreign and unknown others) in meaningful ways.


I believe that WAR SELDOM SOLVES PROBLEMS and that to imagine ourselves as beleaguered, attacked, vulnerable people creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that will never set us free. No matter how extensive our security precautions, how powerful our military prowess, how strong our political rhetoric or how spiritual our moral claims, the fact is that everyone is a vulnerable, mortal human being and death comes to all of us sooner or later.  In this, we are equalized.  To perpetuate war is to only guarantee that others will die without a companion guarantee that we will be any safer.


I believe that we are presented with significant, historic opportunities to FOSTER GLOBAL COMMUNITY by encouraging international conversation about terrorism, creating coalitions of shared responses, and exerting our considerable abilities to foster connection with our national neighbors who all share the legacy of loss and pain.  Coherent global community may be the single most effective deterrent to terroristic actions.  If the spaces, places and opportunities to practice terrorism are contained and bounded through strong community (rather than intimidating action), the chances for its continued growth are strangled.  Let's think beyond the military realm for coordinated action here.  Let's think of how we can build meaningful, long-term connections between nations on the question of terrorism, and more importantly, other significant questions of the human condition.


I believe that TOLERANCE of difference may not be enough right now.  We need to practice a true embracing of a love for DIVERSITY and MULTICULTURALISM in its richest sense, whether we are talking about groups at home or abroad.


I believe that PEACE is more than a concept or a state of being; it is a way of moving and living in the world; and if committed peace activists cannot find their voice, heart and action in these times, then peace is irrelevant.


I believe that FEAR is the true enemy right now, rather than any group of people, any other nation state or even any single individual bent on destruction.  Terrorists can only inflict so much damage.  Fear can chain us, paralyze us, and freeze us in a living state of death.  The best response to fear is to acknowledge it, feel it, and live our lives anyway.


I believe that LIFE GOES ON (even for the dead), and even out of the most painful and devastating ashes of experience, new seeds of possibility and hope always emerge.  To give up the redemptive and restorative power of hope is to be among the walking dead already.  And I refuse to act and think dead while I am still a vibrant, living being.  I owe the dead and the living more than that.


I believe in the deep, transformative, immutable power of LOVE, and I believe that deeply committed, authentic people acting out of heartfelt and thinking love can and will change the world -- even the darkest, hopeless parts of it.


I believe that we can PUBLICLY ACKNOWLEDGE what we don't know right now without losing face, power or position.


I believe a CASE CAN BE MADE for love and peace in these times, and that the best of the Enlightenment spirit can be applied to creating, articulating, defending and explaining the case for loving kindness in thought and action.


I believe that if we truly believe in FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, and LAW, that we will choose to act in conformity with those beliefs, even when provoked mightily.


I believe that TRUE LEADERSHIP OF THE WARRIOR is not providing a mere reflection of the people's fears and concerns, but in gently and firmly providing an example of a greater vision that transcends the present and envisions the future;


I believe that appropriate and sacred SPACE, PLACE AND TIME can be made for all people of all ethnic backgrounds of all persuasions to SPEAK about these issues with compassion, truth, sincerity and understanding.


I believe that RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE RESTORED AND FOSTERED between individuals, groups, within nations, between nations and universally despite the presence of threat, danger, destruction and death.


I believe that the greatest thing to fear in these times is not violent death; it is living lives that lack courage, justice, mercy and love.  And I believe that our ACTIONS WILL BE OUR TESTIMONY as to what we really believe and what we just pay lip service to as Americans.  I believe that we can model a better way to live, while we restore as much of a sense of safety as is ever possible in a mortal world.


I am a WARRIOR FOR PEACE in these times; I believe that we can combine effective, significant action within the context of a restorative response.  I don't pretend to know all the answers; but I do know some of the necessary questions; and I trust in the collective ability of critically thinking and authentically feeling people to come to terms with the meaning and actions required to navigate these harsh times.


And above all else, I believe that WE WILL SURVIVE, and thrive, as a global community again. We will emerge from these times, stronger, wiser, better than we entered them because the harshest lessons of life usually generate the most profound community and personal growth.



By Maria Stalzer Wyant Cuzzo




About the Author:  Dr. Maria Stalzer Wyant Cuzzo is Associate Professor of Legal Studies, Paralegal Studies and teaches mediation/conflict resolution courses at UW-Superior.  She is also a former practicing attorney in northern Wisconsin and a mediator/qualified neutral in the region.  


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