Shulamit has, over the past few months, brought to my attention the idea of Restorative Circles. I have read a couple of articles and my thoughts & feelings about it are mixed. The last of these articles consolidated my thoughts.
I have not invested enough time and attention to properly describe what Restorative Circles is – so I will call upon the words of it’s founder Dominic Barter:
“Restorative Justice is effective when our intentions are those of social cohesion, community resilience, healing and sustainable changes in behaviour towards underlying values of well being, inclusion, mutual aid, learning and responsibility. The restorative approach looks not at who has done wrong but at what needs are unmet. It seeks not to label and condemn but to alert us to our place in the web of relationships, to our power to act and our power to mend.”
That is a wonderful outlook but when I first read it I had some reservations about it’s applicability. I have no doubt its a good direction to go, but there has to be both personal and social readiness to approach it. The applied tools of Restorative circles as I understand them are based on communication. Communication relies on other subtle skills such as observation, listening, speech, openness. These are not trivial skills, they are not inherently available to people in modern societies – and their absence may be one of the root causes for the very conflicts Restorative Circles tends to:
“Restorative practices rely on social conventions and emotional literacy. Such conventions are far from new – in fact some believe they are older than our current, punitive view of justice. However they have been marginalised and devalued for centuries. The process of remembering and revaluing them is still gathering ground. The capacity to articulate our feelings and needs without attributing blame is also both ancient and only recently rediscovered in urban cultures.”
My initial feeling was and remains that an approach such as Restorative Circles cannot (yet!?) replace punitive approaches. When dialogue is possible dialogue should prevail, when it isn’t then punitive interventions are required (maybe punitive systems can be improved by taking the opportunity to gift social-outlaws with communication skills that can give them access to the alternative restorative approach).
“The idea that biological crimes can be ended by intellect alone, that you can talk crime to death, doesn’t work … The instrument of conversation between society & biology has always been a policeman or a soldier and his gun. All the laws of history … Constitutions & the Bills of Rights & Declarations of Independence are … instructions to the military & police.”
( Robert Pirsig from Lila on the relationship between social, intellectual & biological )
But here’s what I found truly interesting. Here is a quote taken from a recent interview with Dominic Barter:
“Being afraid and not listening yourself and avoiding conflict, that’s what’s dangerous. The conflict has to speak louder to get your attention. The way to raise the volume is to violate others.”
I recently spent some time at a cancer-radiation facility (visiting a relative). The center provides one of the most lethal self-inflicted interventions invented by man. The body is exposed to lethal radiation aimed at cancer cells. The center is equipped with modern machinery and is overbooked/overloaded with work. There are both hospitalized and out-patients waiting in an ever-busy queue to get their lethal dosage of radiation.
I sat there wondering how has a so-called modern society reached the point where cancer wards are over-populated and people are lined up for lethal radiation? Can no one see that something is terribly wrong? Can no one see that the “internal conflict has become so loud because we are not paying attention to it“? Is it reasonable for us to pursue an advanced idea such as Restorative Circles when we are unable, as individuals and a society, to achieve basic biological health and a corresponding peace of mind?
I feel there is an inner Restorative Circle that everyone of us has to nurture, develop and maintain. That is the point of greatest leverage available to us. I feel that “fixing society” is becoming an escape, a fashion of our times that is actually diverting our attention from where it is direly needed. If “fixing society” gives you hope and inspiration then harness that inspiration and turn it back inward – maybe one day you will arrive at a humbling realization that there is nothing outside that needs fixing.