The Work and Richness of Relationship

Restorative Justice has touched me to the core, and taught me a lot about the work and richness of relationship.

Punishment, which is married to fear, is not restorative, and rarely results in true change. Listening, risking, understanding, awareness of limits and consequences, accountability, and group collaboration are restorative.

The first time I learned about restorative justice was while

Diverse and Casual People and Togetherness Concept

viewing the documentary A Long Nights Journey into the Day, an account of the Restoration Committee Hearings in South Africa. In particular, I watched the parents of American Amy Biehl, an activist student murdered during a demonstration, meet and talk with the perpetrators. Amy’s mother has since worked with some of the perpetrators and dedicated her life to projects in South Africa.

I next heard about successful juvenile justice projects where youth met with all those impacted by their actions – family, victims, school, and community members. In circle, youth are held accountable and learn how their actions affect others. Participants also learn about the needs of the youth. The circle then determines a meaningful way to repair the harm or put things right for everyone involved.

As a school counselor, I had opportunities to use a restorative model in classes and small groups affected by the actions of another. I saw firsthand the impact of a group restorative process. There was healing through sharing, understanding, forgiveness, and relationship. Many students in the circles learned to be honest about how they were affected and express what they needed.

What have restorative circles taught me about relationships in the dailiness of a very busy life?

·      Be willing to do the work. All relationships take work. They take an investment of time, listening, strength, courage, self-reflection, and willingness to stick it out to open to love. It means feeling the rough edges, walking in the messiness, resourcing, and learning.

·      Create a clear intention of safety for everyone. The work of relationships also includes conscious building safe containers for honesty, expression of all feelings in respectful ways, accountability, appreciation, encouragement, and collaboration. To stay safe and grow, relationships must be shame and blame-free zones. Blame and shame hinder change.

·      Risk and be open for the unknownBelieve in the process. Real change and real learning come through relationship. I must be willing to surrender fixing things and controlling outcomes. Together we learn and find answers and grow closer. The restorative process empowers others with their own capacity to heal.

·      Be aware of and express needs and limits. Clear limits can exist simultaneously with love, listening, and empathy. Limits and structure build trust, accountability, and the “container” for communication. Awareness of needs comes from deep listening to our selves and others.

·      Use mistakes as learning opportunities. This turns the focus onto solutions rather than blame, and creates win-win situations.

·      Follow-up. Solutions require ownership and follow-up. Any change takes follow-up, and the willingness to return again and again to the negotiation circle. Follow-up encour

Positive Parenting app showing these keys in daily family life

Positive Parenting app showing these keys in daily family life

ages follow-through and consistency.

What were you taught about punishment? Mistakes? Failure? Blame? Limits and love?  In parenting, be honest about your hidden beliefs and question where they arise and if they are really true. I continue to be humbled how remnants of old hidden beliefs can sneak into awareness.

Susan Stiffelman in Parenting Without Power Struggles, encourages parents to use Byron Katie’s  ( 4 questions to challenge beliefs based on fear. Is it true? Can you absolutely know it is true? How do you feel (or react) when you think that thought? Who would you be without that thought?  

Through faith and belief in the work of relationship, It all boils down to acknowledgement of our mutual humanity and our journey in learning together. It’s the meaningful work of family in both the nuclear and the broad sense of our connection to each other. It’s the juice of love and positive change.

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