The Care and Feeding of Human Connection

Welcome to the launch of our new blog.  Likely I’ll be the principal writer, but we invite guest writers to take us into the details of their Restorative worlds.  Or you can tip us off to a personal or professional story; we’ll interview you and write it up.

The point of these writings will be to give guided tours of the landscape of Restorative Justice Practices (RJP).  It’s vast.  Not unlike our biological ecosystem.  Restoration cultivates an interpersonal ecosystem that includes cultural traditions, human habits, relationships of all kinds, rules and norms governing behavior, and so on.  No one could cover it all, and it is constantly evolving.  We’ll visit specific situations where the approach is being used, and we’ll occasionally note where RJP is abused.  At other times, we’ll climb up a tall hill where we can see broad issues affecting the field as a whole.

We’re hoping to reach a wide variety of people, from the merely curious to veteran practitioners.  In super-brief, Restorative Justice is about healing those involved in wrong-doing, especially the victims, instead of relying on punishing the wrong-doer, as if punishment itself resolves conflict.  Restorative Practices are the umbrella that includes the Justice protocols, but uses its principles to deal with issues beyond crime and misbehavior, in order to build relationships and maintain our communities.  If this is new territory to you, the RJP 101 on our website or our Curated Library will get you started.

We invite RJP savants and elders, friends and anyone else to circle up with us for good, healthy debates.  Strong feelings are encouraged; aggression is not.  Personally, I’m sick of adversarial battles.

Voyaging in the land of Restorative Justice Practices

The Restorative mindset respects the scale of our interpersonal landscape.    

“Respect” literally means “to look again,” to reconsider what you have taken for granted.  When you, me, or anyone views our same old world together, aspects of it look different when using a Restorative lens.  Howard Zehr, the grandfather of RJP in this country, established this perspective in his book, Changing Lenses (1990), the seminal work that launched American’s version of the RJ movement, which was already well underway in other countries.  Zehr is the guy in the picture above looking through the lens of his fingers.  He’s a criminologist, but also an amateur photographer who trained himself in the art of looking. He says,

We in the West view crime through a particular lens.  The “criminal justice” process that uses that lens fails to meet many of the needs of either the victim or the offender.  The process neglects victims while failing to meet the expressed goals of holding offenders accountable and deterring crime.

Major or minor, conflict will always be with us.  

After Changing Lenses shined a new light on the dysfunctional criminal justice system, people in different sectors began looking upstream to the human contexts where weedy, offensive behavior first starts to grow.  Sadly, neglected or unsupervised kids were developing feral, unsocialized behaviors which then get punished by the people whom the behavior offends or harms – family, school, neighbors.  There, upstream, was the cradle to school to prison pipeline, pushing kids who need help further away from positive connections with community.

Concerned activists began to examine the strange assumption that we can hurt people into healthy behavior, at whatever age.  Little evidence shows that punishment works.  Instead it’s a wack-a-mole strategy, beating down one conflict only to generate others (like resentment, rebellion, rage).  If punishment doesn’t work, what does?  Answers lay in ancient, indigenous people’s “tribal circle” traditions, which are specifically designed to repair relationships and strengthen the community fabric.  These “circles” became the model for anticipating, preventing and handling interpersonal conflict.

Restorative Practices, then, are the powerful, effective ways that regular people like you and me can apply them to everyday life.  A skillful, curious question, for example, can clear up a misunderstanding, spark a friendship, inspire an apology, or make space for someone to say what’s really on their minds.  These mundane successes will also be among the nooks and dells we’ll also visit in our travels

There’s so much to see!  Join us.