Restorative Justice and Perspectival Shifts

There’s an interesting article in The Independent on ‘restorative justice’ methods in Britain which deal with bullying in some schools. The restorative justice approach, based on Maori cultural principles, attempts to deal with bullying not through punishment, but through face-to-face facilitated discussion and reconciliation between victim and offender. Having been bullied once upon a time myself in my childhood, simply because I was a quiet and introverted kid, I can well understand the ineffectiveness of attempting to “tattletale” on the bully. All that happens is that you make them more angry, and they will only seek later to make you pay for telling on them and getting them in trouble.

The restorative justice approach sits the bully and their victim down together, and the victim tells the bully what the effects of their bullying have done to their lives. The bully is thus shown quite viscerally what the effect of his/her actions has wrought, and he or she is thus given the full action-and-consequence perspective that they had not thought through before. It teaches them to understand the victim’s perspective. Once this perspective is developed, 9 times out of 10 the bully has lost all desire to continue abusing another human being. Because no longer can they pretend they don’t know what they are doing.

What a unique and deceptively simple approach to justice! Community and communication based as opposed to hierarchical law based. Because law, even when developed with noble ethos and egalitarian interests in mind, is set in stone—well not stone, because it can be amended, but more like thickly stirred sludge—and is little able to adapt to unique particular circumstances and contexts. Our law is a law focused on punishment and retribution, suing and money kickbacks, with little to no compassion and healing.

I just realized from the article that I had already unwittingly been training some of my workers in restorative justice approaches when it came to dealing with matters of poor cleaning jobs done by staff under them. I tell them that instead of yelling at people and making them feel bad, simply take the person into the place where they failed to clean adequately and show them visually what they missed. Once they have an understanding of this, they will not usually make the same mistakes again, unless they really are just asswipes. The fact is that most people simply do not always have the oversight and follow through of thought that takes them to the point of realizing the bigger picture, unless they are specifically shown the bigger picture. Then they get the A-ha moment.

Our culture, I often think, works from the angle of assuming that people are inherently stupid and pretty much worthless except as mindless consumers, spoonfed drivel and guidance from above. But on the contrary, I think that people are innately quite capable of doing highly creative acts of beauty, if given half a chance. It’s this ‘half a chance’ that is oftentimes missing in most situations. The most potent power that we all hold in the world is our perspective, and if most people’s perspectives are delimited and negative, then that has a profound affect on everyone. Even the simple inner act of allowing another human being to exist beyond the box that you daily choose to confine them in can have amazing consequences. All you did was change the way you look, and then the outer world shifted! Is this possible? It is. It happens every day. The little revolutions. The little openings of light shining from within making their way into another’s eyes.

Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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