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Five Key Elements of Transformation
Within The Philosophy of Restorative/Transformative Justice and Transforming Individual and Community Trauma
“A great many people think they are changing when they are just rearranging their prejudices.”
William James, Philosopher
“Why must anyone seek for new ways of acting? The answer is that in the long run the continuity of life itself depends on the making of new (paradigms)…The continuous invention of new ways of seeing (and being) is (our) special secret of living.”
Deep in the core of all that is emerging about restorative justice in its many manifestations is transformation. Transformation is driving restorative justice up into the consciousness of society. And, while there are many wonderful outcomes through the efforts of all who are involved in bringing the various forms and processes of restorative justice into the life of society, it is vital that in order for restorative justice not to become mutated into just another fleeting program, pushed out beyond the margins of justice practices, the pure elements of transformation in the context of restorative justice must be explored.
Transformation relates to Restorative/Transformative Justice through 5 key elements:
The first element is Community. The greatest security we can have is a healthy community. Community is in essence brought to life by relationships. Relationships bring meaning into our lives. Relationships provide us with identity, purpose, meaning, direction, in essence relationship and therefore community is a life-giving, life-defining, life-nurturing process. Community is the interconnectedness of everything. No living organism within the universe survives without relating to the OTHER. We are in a relationship with everyone, our family, our friends, our colleagues, our neighborhood, town, city, country, and planet. Understanding the essence of community immediately introduces us to the exploration of relationships and their meaning for humanity. When we speak about the person who has come into conflict in life, it is impossible to talk without referring to the absence of healthy life-affirming relationships, conflict on the social level is about the denigration, the deterioration, and ultimately the neglect of relationships. And it is the neglect of relationships that is often a product of retributive justice.
Retributive justice first and foremost is an oxymoron. Retribution does not, will not create justice. Rather retributive justice pursues the devolution of community. Retributive justice maintains features of pursuing blameworthiness of individuals. Once this is achieved, the process then proceeds to characterize guilt in order to exact some form of punishment. Punishment often takes the form of highlighting an individual’s flaws and deficiencies… characterized by language such as “bad”, “mean”, “offender”. Through these labels we tend to define the entire person… in essence we stigmatize in order to make the person stop committing offences. Finally, retributive justice departs from community by its explicit efforts to isolate and remove the “guilty” person from that community.
Sadly this isolation/incarceration tends to have the reverse impact on addressing crime: the greater the amount of incarceration the greater the likelihood of the person re-offending.
Community at its zenith is about integration not isolation. It is about celebrating capacities not admonishing weakness. Community is about seeking creative compassionate ways to relate with one another… flaws, strengths, and all.
The opportunity here then is to constantly be asking and demonstrating ways to create meaningful community, relationships particularly in times of conflict and crisis.
The second element is Capacity. Capacity of any human being is never created, nurtured in isolation. Capacity is in fact created in and through relationships of one being with another. Capacity has many powerful opportunities to challenge anyone authentically engaging the process of restorative justice. One opportunity is to let go of favourite ways of thinking. Another opportunity is to not be prescriptive in the attempt to resolve the issue one is dealing with. Another opportunity is to invite others into the circle of capacity building. The invitation of others into a restorative justice process must be understood as an invitation for people to contribute their gifts, talents, insights, abilities in ways that can bring about or support the well-being of all involved in the process. When people are invited to participate in this way, true meaningful action, and accountability is created.
The strength of what is created here comes from the very act of everyone mutually developing the process and the outcomes, rather than having the outcomes imposed by a higher authority. This is a strength-based element rather than a deficiency based element. If the goal is sustaining healthy community, then one key is to encourage the capacity of everyone to flourish… especially in times of conflict. In the event of a person hurting another person, the goal is not to hurt the person back. Rather, the pursuit here is to say how everyone draws on everyone’s capacities to help repair the harm that has been done. When capacity is explored there are some immediate outcomes: people are not alienated and isolated, rather they are drawn together to repair harm
People’s’ creativity is explored with the statements of ‘We can…’ or, ‘I am able and willing to…’ People, whether the person who committed the offending behavior, or the one who has been victimized, now have the opportunity to demonstrate strengths rather than shrink under shadows of retributive shame through a myopic focus framed within labeled limitations. Limitations are generated through the imposition of Shoulds.
Shoulds are the antithesis of capacity. When one is told what they should do, the effect is to deplete energy. The imposition of shoulds has the effect of “shoulding all over the person”. The outcomes of “shouldings” are feelings of: anxiety, incapacity, despair, guilt, low self-esteem.
The outcomes of exploring capacity are the enhanced experience of ability, energy, and enhanced self-worth. When capacity is focused on everyone is invited to contribute to the reparation of the harm that has been done. Once again when capacity is explored new and healthy relationships are formed, given that nothing meaningful is ever created in isolation. Capacity is realized in the circle process when people connect with and to their emotional, cognitive, spiritual level and see these elements in relation to everyone else within the circle.
The third element is Connection. Disconnection is without doubt the purest manifestation of people in conflict the culture of the Hopi Indians of North America; have a word Koyaanisqatsi which translates to: crazy life, life in turmoil, life disintegrating, life out of balance, a state of life that calls for another way of living. It would not be too far out of line to suggest that Koyaanisgatsi could be applied to our planet as a whole, in present day experience—just look around, tell me what you see. Retribution would without question be aligned with “life disintegrating.”
People who harm others often are disconnected from empathy for others; they often do not see themselves as having had a significant impact in the lives of others, and often they are instructed within the criminal justice system to not contact people affected by their behaviour and to not demonstrate empathy to the people affected by their behaviour.
Disconnection is also the manifestation of competition. Within the existing criminal justice system, the operating paradigm is disconnection through competition. The criminal justice system is often the acting out of a play of US AGAINST THEM. Furthermore, it is not unusual for the person who was victimized to not be present in cases involving a plea bargain, and as a result is left with no closure for the trauma they have experienced. Still deeper, there are experiences even when the person who has gone through a full trial still has come away feeling that they still did not get to the true answer of why they were victimized and that the disposition does little to deal with the trauma they experience.
Connection on the other hand offers us that opportunity to truly explore and integrate “another way of living.” Through connecting in a circle process there is a fundamental shift from “I” to “We.” People in the circle process connect with their comprehension of the impact of their behaviour on others, they connect with their capacity to empathize with others, they connect with their ability to create ways collaboratively to repair the harm that has taken place, people are able to connect to the truth of what transpired (the offending behaviour), rather than competing for the proof of what transpired (offending behaviour). There comes a point in the circle process the “a ha”; the realization that everyone is in one form another connected to everyone else, people are not isolated from one another, people are, thought the circle process moving into a transformative connection because everyone does matter and for that “a ha” to take place, everyone must listen to everyone else.
The fourth element is Voice. “There is a world of difference between waiting to speak and listening.” The significance of voice in the circle process cannot be overstated. Voice has two immediate compelling outcomes: 1) People are allowed to express the truth of their experience, and 2) Everyone listens to the person speaking. Often the most powerful outcome of a circle is the simple experience of being listened to for the very first time. When a person feels heard, truly heard they also experience acknowledgement.
A person’s experience is validated by having others hearing and therefore feeling their story. It takes great courage to tell a story where you have harmed others and you want to acknowledge the pain you have caused. One person who had caused others great pain stated: “ you learn on a very deep, emotional level the impact you have had when you hear the voice of each person in that circle, by the time everyone has spoken in the circle you arrive at a place that is much deeper than you would have ever thought possible. There is a voice that comes from within, when you are trying to say you are sorry, not from the surface but from way deep down within yourself.” Equally it takes great courage to move past a state of being victimized and being in a place to tell others of your experience and to see that you are not limited by a label of “victim” but rather a person with a strong, powerful voice, a voice that is heard by others, felt by others. “As well as being an offender (robberies, aggravated assault, assault with weapons), I have also been a victim (child sexual abuse, neglect). The greatest feeling I can have is letting go of the hate, anger, pain if feel towards those who had harmed me, l am able to let all that go because I was able to say out loud ‘listen, I am hurting, I am hurt here and I have been caring it for so long and this pain and anguish, it no longer belongs to me. I am letting it go.
Another person who had also suffered sexual abuse as a child had this to say about voice:
“ Somehow, at times it feels like our culture has encouraged us not to speak and say out loud we have been hurt, so we push the pain inside ourselves, and the deeper we push, the harder we push, and the more painful the entire experience becomes and then we create unhealthy self-destructive ways to block the pain, such as fighting, alcoholism, drug addiction, just so that my pain would not be noticeable to me I could drink to the point of alcohol poisoning, I would self-sabotage as soon as I got close to achieving success, and the reason I would engage in dissociative, self-harming behaviour was I would be transported back there as a 12 year old boy thinking: “I messed up, the man who sexually abused my was in his 30’s but somehow it was all my fault, therefore I don’t deserve good things.” And the most debilitating aspect of this was my loss of voice. I felt that I could not tell anyone about the horror that had happened, I believed if I did I would be seen as someone who was weak, someone who brought it on themselves, someone who no matter how you framed it was in the wrong. And over the years the loss of voice is more and more muted by behaviour that was excessive: drink to excess, fight, drugs to excess, everything was done in excess. All because, my pain, was in excess.
This person went on to say: “When I look back on my story now, I think to myself if I could have had a sense of safety to say that I was hurt, and somebody was there to listen to me, not judge me, not try to fix me, but just let me talk, I think things would have been very different in my life. I think that is the beauty of restorative justice, the circle is a place of safety, a place of strength for someone who has been victimized, a place where the person is allowed to bring their voice to others in a way that harm is dealt with in a healing fashion. The circle is a place where a person is not labeled “victim” and therefore is not ascribed attributes of victimization such as being weak, vulnerable, and powerless. Rather, the person is seen as a whole person, and not a person to be defined and have their entire life defined by the event of victimization.
Voice is a relational experience. When someone is speaking there is always someone, in the circle, who is listening. Voice in a circle process is a truth-telling experience. There is not a debate about a person’s voice in the circle experience; rather it is the opportunity for empathy and understanding to find their place in helping repair the harm that has taken place. Voice nurtures the open space for empathy to surface it does not demand it or demand that empathy be imposed, voice nurtures and provides us a way to create meaningful, powerful, transformative states.
The fifth element is Sacredness. Over the past years of facilitating training, I keep hearing participants say: ‘there was so much respect for everyone in the circle, but I am sure it would not be like this in the real world, this was just a training experience, so everyone was on their best behaviour.’ My response to this view continues to be as follows; in a culture that directly or indirectly supports retribution on a daily basis, there is an assumption that people cannot, will not meet in a circle to explore ways to repair the harm that has taken place. This assumption goes deeper down to the belief that either people will be insincere or that there will be some kind of outburst, exploitation, in other words the circle cannot happen it is to unrealistic for the “real world.”
My experience has been, however, that people are even more deferential in the “real world.” Reflecting back on the notion of Koyaanisqatsi, I believe people are very much wanting and seeking another way of living, another way of dealing with the trauma that has come into their lives. The sacredness of the circle is created by everyone in the circle, because underneath it all people from the very core of their being began their own story from a place of Goodness. What the circle process does is reinforce the seeking out and experiencing of Goodness. There is a profound caring for others that takes form as the circle process unfolds. I have been witness to people coming into the circle as “victim” and “offender” only to leave hugging each other at the end of the experience. I have been witness to trepidation unfold into transformation, through the circle process.
I believe that when there is a space open enough for the elements of community, capacity, connection, voice, to flourish all of us evolve into the architects, whom together can build a sacred space where true transformation is experienced.
-Arthur Lockhart, Professor, Humber College & Founder of The Gatehouse