of Aotearoa New Zealand
Prof Chris Marshall
The unspeakable horror perpetrated at two Christchurch mosques on 15 March, and the overwhelming response of grief and solidarity with the Muslim community expressed throughout the nation, has generated a huge amount of media coverage over recent weeks, both locally and internationally.
I have been particularly struck by the weight of commentary devoted to the extraordinary moral leadership displayed by our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Many have described her response as “pitch perfect”, and noted the way she is being hailed around the world as a beacon of hope for a new kind of political leadership.
It is hard for New Zealanders not to feel a sense of pride in her performance – and a pride also that our small country, notwithstanding its own entrenched injustices, has spawned a female leader of such calibre, courage and compassion.
In an international arena increasingly dominated by thugs, bullies and strongmen, Jacinda Ardern has provided a masterclass in what I call “compassionate justice”. Talk of a Nobel Peace prize nomination does not seem far-fetched, given that some are saying her response has probably helped forestall copycat or revenge attacks occurring elsewhere in the world.
But to think of Jacinda’s response as “pitch perfect” or as a “performance” is potentially misleading. For its significance lies precisely in the fact that it was not a carefully calibrated political performance.
She herself has said that she never really thought about how she should conduct herself at the time. She followed her instincts, she listened to her heart, she was guided by empathy and by the humane values and virtues she has probably cultivated all her life.
In one interview, she batted away any suggestion that she had shown great leadership, saying instead she had simply shown humanity.
One of the more perceptive accounts of her response has come from Dr Ghassen Hage, Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory at the University of Melbourne, in a short piece entitled, “You Can’t Copy Love: Why Other Politicians Fall Short of Jacinda Adern”. Although he makes no reference to restorative justice or restorative practice, Hage offers two compelling observations that are pertinent to those of us working in the restorative justice field.
First, he speaks of his admiration for the “multidimensional restorative potential” of Jacinda’s style of politics. Hage describes white nationalist racism, like all ethno-nationalist racism, as a “shattering force”. It is not only physically violent, it is also psychically and spiritually violent as well.
It shatters communities, ruptures relationships, and fragments and disperses identities. Racism is not only a “weapon of economic dispossession, but also a weapon of mass psychosocial destruction and communal disintegration”.
Given its splintering impact, the only remedy is “a fundamental and sustained politics of restoration that unleashes all the possible economic, practical and affective centrifugal forces to counter the corrosive effects of the disintegrative politics that has prevailed so long”.
What a powerful image this is! Systemic racism is like a destructive tornado whose centripetal forces fracture communities and alienate people from sources of identity, value and belonging. To counteract this trajectory of dissolution and dispersal, a restorative politics is needed that releases centrifugal forces of integration and connection.
This requires more than policy efforts to close the inequality gap between minority and majority communities. It also requires a more fundamental, grass roots commitment to resist all the social and ideological forces that separate and alienate and subordinate communities of difference, while nurturing efforts to build just relationships and forge affective connections between citizens.
This need to create both just relationships and empathetic connections between people is exactly what restorative practices aspire to do. Which means that any serious attempt to advance “restorative politics” on a societal scale can only benefit by drawing heavily on the democratic values and discursive practices of restorative philosophy. Restorative practices, in other words, have the potential to build the social capital needed if restorative politics is to strike at the root of systemic racism.
The second observation Hage makes about Jacinda’s response is the way it exemplified a “special kind of love”, or what he calls the “difficult love” that crosses cultural boundaries and embraces multiplicity and difference. “While love on its own leads us nowhere, a restorative politics is not complete without it being permeated by a deeply felt love, a love that can cross rather than erect cultural boundaries and that can heal rather than entrench divisions. It is in this regard that Jacinda Ardern’s restorative politics is so crucial…it provides a glimmer of hope that a politics that heals the shattering effects of white ethno-nationalist racism is possible”.
Once again, this description of a putative restorative politics echoes the nature of restorative justice on an interpersonal level. Restorative dialogue also seeks to transcend barriers of hostility and alienation, and to heal rather than entrench division. And its transformative potential lies in the fact that such a way of responding to harm and hostility manifests the inherent power of love, albeit a difficult kind of love.
Tellingly, Hage suggests that it was Jacinda’s display of authentic love that makes her example so difficult for other politicians to emulate. For it is not just what Jacinda did but how she did it that was crucial. The gift of support she gave to to those traumatised by the massacre was imbued with the spirit in which she offered it, and without that spirit – without that sincerely felt love – her gift would not have had its restorative power.
None of this is to imply that Jacinda is a saint or super human. Quite the opposite. The reason why she has had such an astonishing impact on millions of people, here and around the world, devastated by the massacre is because she responded in such a genuinely human way, a way that allowed compassion rather than political calculation to guide her actions.
As another recent commentator, Nesrine Mailk, has put it, the Prime Minister displayed “a normal human reaction, not robotic or platitudinous, not scripted or insincere”. What is so depressing about her example of “compassionate poise”, this columnist suggests, is that such a normal human response is now so unfamiliar, so rare, among political leaders. “What should be the norm is elevated to exceptional.”
While that may be true in the political sphere, it is not so true elsewhere. In fact, the capacity of ordinary people to rise above self-protetcion and reach out in shared humanity and understanding to others is surprisingly commonplace, as everyone working in our field knows.
It was also powerfully demonstrated at the National Service of Remembrance on 29 March by the moving words of forgiveness and understanding of Farid Ahmed, whose wife, Husna Ahmed, was killed at Al Noor Mosque. Such displays of compassionate justice show that restorative politics is not only desirable and essential in our brutally fractious world, it is actually possible, if only we have the courage to do what Jacinda did.
Over the past two years, Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) has taken significant steps towards becoming a Restorative University. This has involved the use of restorative processes both in a reactive way, as a response to misconduct or incidents of harm, and a proactive way, in order to build community, enhance belonging and mutual responsibility, and identify shared community norms.
The “Sustained Restorative Dialogue” method was piloted in July 2018 as a proactive restorative process to hold difficult conversation about important community issues. The inaugural dialogue explored the issue of sexual harm and harassment on campus. It was a “sustained” dialogue in that it was run over four sessions with the same participants. It was a “restorative” dialogue in that the conversation moved in sequential sessions through the main steps of a restorative analysis – What is happening? What are the impacts? What is needed to make things right? The aim of the dialogue was to explore the broader climate that gives rise to sexual harm in the campus setting and beyond and to explore possible solutions.
The report linked above includes background information, the circle outlines for each session, feedback from participants, recruitment processes, and lessons learned.
Prof Chris Marshall
This article originally appeared in the Vice-Chancellor's column in Victoria News.
On July 9, as Chair in Restorative Justice at Victoria University, I will be hosting a day-long round table to explore the goal of becoming a “restorative university”. Co-sponsored with the University of Otago, the day will be opened by the Provost, Professor Wendy Larner, and has drawn registrations from around the country, as well as expressions of interest from Australia.
Victoria University is well placed to host such a conversation since we have already taken significant steps towards embedding restorative values and practices in our student conduct policies and Halls of Residence, and have begun discussing their potential for addressing workplace and employment relations as well.
Dr David Karp, Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Skidmore College in New York, and a nationally known commentator in America on the use of restorative initiatives to address sexual violence and harassment on tertiary campuses, will provide expert commentary in what promises to be a highly interactive symposium.
As well as the issue of sexual harm, participants will consider the role of restorative processes in building inclusive and resilient communities on campus, resolving interpersonal conflicts and grievances, and responding to damaging behaviours in the workplace.
The proposition behind the day is that the relational philosophy and peacemaking practices of restorative justice have an invaluable, and potentially transformational, role to play in achieving positive change in organisational settings, so that, in Victoria University’s case, we can better achieve our declared ambition of becoming a “values-based university”.
The values in question here are the five ethical values listed in the Strategic Plan, those of “respect”, “responsibility”, “fairness”, “integrity” and “empathy”. These values are expected to permeate all the University does, including its strategic commitment to civic engagement, sustainability, inclusivity, equity, diversity and openness.
Significantly, these ethical values are precisely the same values that undergird and guide the practice of restorative justice--which means that a key mechanism for operationalising the values of the Strategic Plan and holding ourselves accountable to them in our day-to-day work is striving to function as a restorative university.
Many people will have heard of restorative justice, though their understanding of it is still limited. Essentially restorative justice refers to a relational way of responding to wrongdoing and conflict that seeks, above all else, to repair the harm suffered, and to do so, where possible, by actively involving the affected parties in facilitated dialogue and decision-making about their needs and obligations and how to bring about positive changes for all involved.
Compared to other, more standard approaches to justice, restorative justice is distinguished by its commitment to repair rather than punishment and to engaging those most directly affected by the harm in determining together how best to achieve this repair and prevent repetition.
The modern restorative justice movement emerged in Canada about 45 years ago and has since spread all around the globe. It is now considered to be one of the most significant innovations in the administration of justice to have arisen in the modern era.
As well as having a growing impact in the criminal justice sphere, restorative principles have migrated into a wide range of other social settings as well, particularly into the education and employment sectors.
When applied outside the justice system, such as in schools and workplaces, restorative practice has retained its distinctive emphasis on responding to episodes of misconduct or conflict by seeking to repair the harm caused and on using an inclusive dialogical process to do so. But it has also expanded its scope of concern beyond these negative or reactive measures to include positive relationship-building and communication strategies and efforts to achieve institutional change.
It is this combination of reactive and proactive measures that is central to the vision of being a restorative university. A genuinely restorative institution would be one that is committed, at a policy level, to responding to specific incidents of conflict, failure or misconduct by offering restorative options, where appropriate and wanted, to those involved, so that both the substantive and relational harms are addressed, and one that also uses restorative practices proactively to foster inclusive, equitable and empathetic relationships between those who live, work and study together.
One set of measures without the other is insufficient to achieve lasting change. It is not enough to respond to negative events in a restorative way, as valuable as that often is. It must be accompanied by a corresponding effort to invest in practices that forge respectful and caring connections between people and that create a meaningful sense of belonging in the university community.
If Victoria University conscientiously embraces both commitments, the result will surely be a more peaceful, supportive and productive environment to work in. And who does not want that for themselves?
Rodney Holm, Facilitator
This is a call to all facilitators urging them to begin to consider the possibility of declining to take on any more Domestic Violence cases that involve Intimate Partner Violence. The reason for this rather startling claim is that this may be the only way to protect the integrity of the RJ process. There are two reasons for this suggestion, and I will now examine them both.
Before a facilitator can do anything with the persons involved in an IPV case, they have to fill in an 18 page document containing a number of questions, including questions about ‘lethality.’ This is so that the innocent female victim of IPV will be ‘safe’ if a conference proceeds. It is possible to argue that the concept of ‘safety’ is now so overblown that it has become a straitjacket for facilitators and the RJ process. Both are tightly confined. So confined in fact that the process may no longer be RJ at all. Changing the metaphor, I want to argue that RJ facilitators have been headlocked and dragged into the vehicle of the official justice system. Once in there we become part of the punitive arm of the state. The ‘offender’ is an individual (male) person, and we are part of the process that is determined to punish him so that he will stop being violent.
This is morally dubious, ethically suspect, and intellectually fraudulent. It is fraudulent because punishment rarely ever changes behavior and the whole purpose of RJ is to change people’s behavior. Defining IPV as a ‘crime’ (since 1995) has not altered the incidence of the behavior, yet we continue to act as if it does. RJ is not interested in punishment, or singling out one person as ‘the offender’. RJ is all about relationship, yet this is the very thing that we are not allowed to address in IPV cases on the grounds that it is merely a covert way of blaming the victim. Something is wrong somewhere.
The second reason why all facilitators should rebel against IPV cases, is that these intimate relationships have been in place for a long time, and they are the product of long-standing deeply entrenched cultural and family patterns of behavior, which occur against the social structural constraints of education, health, housing, employment, ethnicity, gender and class. If we leave aside the five percent minority of genuinely pathologically violent men, the other ninety five percent are the result of the perfect storm of the confluence of all the negative indices indicated just above. I have met with many incarcerated men who have wept profoundly at what they have done to their partners, yet whose tears are also for their inability to escape the spider’s web of circumstance which is constraining their ability to carry out the most basic and defining characteristic of masculinity as they understand it, to have a job and provide for their family. These men cry, and cry out for help. Yet all we offer them is the harsh face of punishment through incarceration.
As facilitators we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into this god forsaken process of beating up on these beaten men. Have we forgotten the transformative potential of the restorative justice process? Facilitators everywhere, begin to think seriously about this. You have nothing to lose but your belief in a morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest system of punishment.
It was a pleasure to get to interview so many interesting and influential people over the last year as we developed our course, Restorative Justice and Practice: Emergence of a Social Movement.
In coming months, we'll hope to make some of the full-length interviews available that we originally captured for the EdX.org course. Here's the first.
The core concepts of the Māori worldview, as they relate to resolving disputes in the pre-colonial era, are discussed in this interview with Dr Khylee Quince, senior lecturer in law at Auckland University. In this interview, you will be taken through the core concepts of the Māori worldview as they relate to resolving disputes in Aotearoa's pre-colonial era.