of Aotearoa New Zealand
Restorative Justice now there’s a word
Meet the man that caused all these injuries how absurd.
On the first request a definite no
It would have been easy to tell them all where to go.
Time has moved on and the thinking has changed
May be I should, a meeting was arranged
Leading up to the time and reliving all the feelings was more than a drama
As I entered the room I was feeling a lot calmer.
The two organisers had it all under control
It was time; we are now ready to roll.
I looked and I listened at all who were present
I was trying to be open minded and get rid of the resentment.
The man spoke and I believe from his heart
You could see part of his world had also been torn apart.
My turn to speak on behalf of my family and what this has done
Turned our world totally upside down, definitely no part of it is there any fun.
The man’s daughter spoke and I believe she was sincere
Her Dad meant the world to her that was clear.
The two organisers were good and they set the tone
At no time did you think you were there sitting alone.
We were given the opportunity for any final thoughts
After this it is in the hands of the courts.
In the last month I was privileged enough to join and Haley and Sarah in Denver, Colorado for the 7th NACRJ conference (The National Association of Community and Restorative Justice). Being surrounding by hundreds of others inspired by, dedicated to and engaged in work of restorative justice was an incredible experience.
I can’t thank my RJ mentors enough for offering the opportunity to not only attend, but present at the conference about the restorative work we undertake at Victoria University. Haley, Lindsey and Sarah - thank you so much.
Of the many wonderful, thought-provoking and exciting workshops I attended over the three-day conference I’ve found myself reflecting upon one in particular. The workshop was led by an incredible woman named Elaine Shpungin. Her workshop was centred around the key question, “How restorative are you under high pressure and low capacity?”.
To address this issue, we must first look at a keystone framework of restorative justice literature, Watchel’s social discipline window. In Watchel’s window, each quadrant represents a different combination of levels of control and support which individuals employ to attempt to influence the behaviour of others.
To act ‘restoratively’ is to employ both high levels of support and control. Through this approach, individuals can confront behavioural issues, or wrongdoing while simultaneously appreciating the intrinsic worth of the accountable party.
Elaine’s presentation explored how individuals can be prone to ‘slipping’ from the restorative quadrant in stressful and confusing situations as a result of our own biases and prior conditioning. When the pressure turns up our own unique set of biases and experiences will lead each of us down a slippery path to one of the ‘to’, ‘for’, or ‘not’ quadrants, where our behaviours towards others may become neglectful, permissive or punitive.
Staying in the restorative quadrant is demanding work, and operating restoratively requires high levels of self-awareness, emotional literacy and individual capacity. It’s important to acknowledge that sometimes individuals don’t have the capacity to fully engage in our relationships in a restorative manner. In these moments the easy route is to turn a blind eye, to make excuses for others, or to punish and reprimand, the behaviours we can easily default to when the going gets tough.
But, we can help prevent these slips from happening through six key behaviours:
According to Ted Watchel, the fundamental underlying hypothesis of restorative practices is that “human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behaviour when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them”.
Working ‘with’ people is demanding – it takes emotional engagement, personal investment and a real commitment. But, working ‘with’ others is truly rewarding, fulfilling and absolutely fundamental for any leader wishing to lead restoratively.
If you’re interested in exploring more of Elaine’s work, you can check out her website here: https://conflict180.com/about-us/
All that I can hope to
make you understand
is only events: not
what has happened.
‘And people to whom
has ever happened
Cannot understand the
unimportance of events.’
TS Eliot The Family Reunion
This quotation is taken from one of TS Eliot’s plays where a family group gets together to try and sort out their past difficulties. One of the characters is so frustrated by the way the conversations proceed, that he blurts out the above lines. I understand this to mean the difference between what is on the surface and obvious, as against the less obvious things that take place in any interaction between people: the emotional fall-out, the vast gulfs in perception, the challenge of remembering things differently, the challenge to find the words to express what has so far been inexpressible. According to Wikipedia, the play charts the journey of the main character ‘from guilt to redemption’ even if there is some debate about how well the play achieves this.
So, what has this quotation from a play now 100 years old, got to do with Restorative Justice conferences? Believe it or not, there are some similarities: each genre has a script, even if the RJ one is not written down. The characters in each genre are all brought together through relationship – one of kinship, and (in the particular incident I wish to describe) one of accident. In each case the relationship is problematic, and has to be sorted out. Although the processes for ‘sorting things out’ vary quite a lot in a play from an RJ conference they do both have a ‘process.’ One utilizes exits and entrances, speech and action, and the actors deliver lines that are carefully crafted by the playwright. In the other, the lines are ad libbed and are shaped by the ongoing dialectical nature of the encounter, each speech shaping its reply. Both genres however may set up dramatic tension, even if one is by design, and the other by the interplay of unrehearsed utterances. Where that ‘dramatic tension’ is mutually resolved one has a satisfactory play and a satisfactory RJ conference. By happy coincidence Eliot’s play and my conference arrive at similar redemptive endings even if their paths to that point are divergent.
The significance however of this comparison between a 100 year old play and a very recent twenty first century RJ conference is that the question tormenting the play’s main character (‘But how can I explain’?) is exactly the same question we need to ask about the process of any RJ conference – what is it that is going on in this conference that creates a redemptive ending?
The motivation for this essay was facilitating a conference where the parties had been involved in a road accident. I shall describe the conference as ‘an event’, that is, something that did happen (people meeting and talking together for a brief period of time) something with a beginning, a middle and an end. Yet the conference was more than just the words spoken; ‘something happened’ that was more than just the words spoken. What was that ‘something’ that ‘happened?’ One answer might be that ‘a resolution’ was what happened. It seems however, that every answer merely implies another question: ‘How did the meeting arrive at that resolution (and not some other one)?’ What follows is an attempt to answer that question, firstly by detailing ‘the events’, and then by running our ‘night- vision binoculars’ over the script so that we might begin to see those things which were not immediately visible, the ‘things that happened’, in Eliot’s cryptic phrase. I shall subject the conference to some degree of verbal analysis in an attempt to explain what is distinctive about the RJ process – how does it actually ‘work?’ I do so in the earnest hope that my readers are luckier than Eliot’s protagonist who felt that his hearers would ‘understand less after [he] had explained it.’
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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.