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This Restorative Process

Healing happens here in the present.

When humans are in conflict, things need to be sorted out. It may be a simple quarrel, or it may be a horrid crime committed. Still, the process is the same. Restoration.

Restorative Justice is the term that came into being in in the early 1990s. “Restorative justice is a fast-growing state, national, and international social movement that seeks to bring together people to address the harm caused by crime,” write Mark Umbreit and Marilyn Peterson Armour. “Restorative justice views violence, community decline, and fear-based responses as indicators of broken relationships. It offers a different response, namely the use of restorative solutions to repair the harm related to conflict, crime, and victimization.” -from wiki

A similar phenomenon occurred in school systems eager to find a better methodology than punishing and expelling students for unacceptable behavior. In this case the same process is referred to as ‘Restorative Practices’. Both terms share the same key features.

As noted above in the quote, the old methods of demonizing a bad actor are recognized as the result of broken relationships. Indeed, it is these relationships which must be healed. Whether the result of a criminal act, or someone acting out in school, the process is the same. Restoring relationships.

Typically, the process begins with a cooling off period, where offender and victim or two or more acting out are removed from contact with others until emotions become settled. Then offender and victim, or those acting out, are brought together for a conversation. Ideally the setting is a ‘Restorative Circle’.

In a Restorative Circle, those involved and one or two mediators form a circle with chairs. This is in contrast to situations where, say in a classroom, where someone is ‘in charge’ at the front of the room. The circle becomes an equalizer. All participants share in the physical circle.

Then the task is to encourage everyone to be ‘present’. From the World5 perspective, we recognize that Life happens only Now, so it is but aligning with the truth of our reality. Regardless, the point is to see the humanity in everyone who is engaged in the process, and to approach the session with a clear mind and warm heart. No name calling, no speaking over one another, no blame. Openness is key.

Once the space for healing is established and everyone is present, meaningful conversations begin. And they begin with questions. The questions are not accusatory… “Billy why did you hit Bobby?” The questions are honest efforts to understand those involved. “Billy, what were the circumstances that led you to think hitting Bobby was the best option?” “How were you feeling when the encounter occurred?” How do you think Bobby felt during the encounter?” What do you thing we might do to minimize the damage done, to each of you and your classmates, and prevent such situations from reoccurring?”

Again referring to the quote above, these are not ‘fear-based questions’. This is an honest effort at healing. An honest effort toward restoration.

Clearly not everyone and every situation is going to be in the space to leverage This Restorative Process. In severe criminal cases, it might be months or years before the space to forgive and heal exists for a victim. Yet the value of This Restorative Process is not hampered by the time required to seek restoration.

It’s quite simple when we’re paying attention. De-escalate the situation. Make sure the folks involved are able to get past the emotions of the moment. Once such a settling has occurred, we get present with each other. Hence, THIS Restorative Process. And once we’re settled and clear minded, we ask Questions That Matter. These are key because there is no attempt to punish or blame, just to understand what happened with as much clarity as possible. And then all do what is needed to heal and make amends.

This process is ground-breaking. It has the potential to transform policing, the criminal justice system, school systems, families and our very lives. I leave you with a 20 minute film that highlights Restorative Practices in the Finneytown School System, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio…

Fun for the whole community!

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