This week, I am busy coding my interviews with restorative justice facilitators and participants (victims an offenders), getting ready for months of major writing deadlines ahead.
One questions that I asked all interview participants is “How has being involved in restorative justice affirmed or changed your worldview?”
As I review the responses, I’m noticing a common thread that runs throughout. That common worldview is summarized in following three points. I think it is a beautiful and hopeful way to see the world, and one that certainly resonates with me.
1. People are good.
Again and again, the facilitators and participants I have spoken with have told me that being part of restorative justice processes either reminded them or showed them that all people are good at their core.
“If you just talk to someone and understand where they are coming from, most people really don’t mean to do bad things or didn’t mean to cause the harm they caused. There is something in everyone you can relate to. Everyone has a story, if you just take the time to listen to it, which normally you don’t get the opportunity to do in the normal world because a) they wouldn’t tell you or b) you wouldn’t ask, which is why people are so amazed when they get the opportunity.”
“I think it has confirmed a lot of my views about the world that people are inherently good and that there is always a bigger story behind behavior that we think is abhorrent. Just always.”
2. Hurt people hurt people.
People are good, but sometimes they do bad things. This is often because they have a need they are trying to fulfill, whether that is a base need like food, shelter, money, security, or a more complicated need like belonging, love, acceptance, control. Often, people exhibit behaviors that are harmful in an attempt to fulfill their needs. This is very often because they themselves are or have been victims and are hurting. When we hurt, we hurt others.
“In terms of the work I had done previously around supporting survivors of sexual assault, my work was solely with those who had been harmed. So working with perpetrators and getting to understand their worldview and their needs was a big change for me. And having that realization that people can be good people who do bad things. It sounds corny, but getting to see people’s depth. And yea, thinking a lot about how shame entrenches some people’s poor choices, so looking more broadly at what is driving harm, rather than a really shallow individual choice lens. It has confirmed my thinking that people ultimately want to do well in the world, want to do right by others, given the opportunity that is what people will choose most of the time. It has confirmed for me that kind of idealistic thing about people going towards kindness as a natural state. Because a lot of people who don’t do this line of work are like ‘Oh, you must see some stuff that really makes you horrified at humans’ or stuff like that. And it is so the opposite because of people’s capacity for relating to one another, people’s capacity for generosity.”
3. People can change.
All of us are always capable of shifting our understanding and changing our behaviors. We are most likely to change when the people who help us are affirming of our positive qualities, supportive of us, and believe in our ability to change. Through restorative practices, we are able to create a safe space that values the individuals participating and creates an opportunity for understanding and commitment to concrete actions that exhibit and further positive change.
“[Being involved in restorative justice] has probably softened me a little bit. I’ve been working with challenging people and circumstances for 30 years or so. Sometimes you can get hardened by it or a little cynical. You can start to believe that some people are just like that forever and there is no way of changing them. This has reminded me and brought me back to that place of people can totally change, every situation needs to be honored and treated on its own merits and not on your history of experiences.”