Rotary Global Grant Blog September 2018

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Lots of great opportunities to learn and share Restorative Practices this month!

The primary focus for me in September has been writing and revising my dissertation. I have a full draft due on October 8th, so am working away! Wish me luck! 

I have also had some great opportunities for engaged practice this month. My colleagues, Haley and Sarah, and I were asked to participate in a campus event called Sex in the Hub. Billed as “the sex talk you wish you had,” the event focused on sexual health and consent, and also had a very powerful exhibit where you could listen to audio recordings of stories of sexual assault from students. It was heartbreaking and incredibly moving. We were there to facilitate circles as a way to debrief the experience of the exhibit.

On the training front, Chris and I led a half-day workshop on Leadership and Restorative Practices as part of the Leading People Program at VUW. It is great to see the University increasingly embracing the restorative vision! I also gave a talk about restorative justice to a study abroad group visiting Wellington and had the chance to bring circle practice to a local church community. You can read more about that experience here.

One of the things I had the most fun with this month was playing with the idea of how images can effectively portray the idea of restorative justice. I ended up commissioning an image of a Restorative Lady Justice from a local artist. You can read more about my thought process and see that image here.

You can check out the lasted edition of the Rotary Peacebuilder Newsletter reflecting on Sticks and Carrots here. My contribution is titled “Beyond the Carrot and the Stick.” We are also now sharing these newsletters on a Rotary Peacebuilder blog.

I contributed several pieces to the most recent Restorative Well, the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice newsletter. You can read that here.

Finally, I mentioned in July that David Karp visited VUW and gave an excellent lecture on the use of RJ for sexual assault cases in the university context. A recording of that lecture has now been posted here.

 

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If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, How Can We Illustrate Restorative Justice?

The challenge of describing restorative justice and how the philosophy and approach differs from the conventional justice system is one that practitioners and scholars have grappled with since the beginning of the movement. The retributive approach to justice is so culturally ingrained that it can be difficult to fully communicate the restorative paradigm and the impact of this different way of understanding and responding to wrongdoing.

Images play a powerful role in communicating complex ideas. As the well-known idiom in the title suggests, the best images are capable of conveying meaning more effectively than a lengthy description.

So how can we use the power of images to help communicate the concept of restorative justice?

A recent article by Brunilda Pali highlights the lack of images of restorative justice available to help communicate its meaning. The most common image used is of a group of people seated in a circle, which does not communicate significant conceptual depth to someone new to restorative justice. She notes that “art can mediate, enhance, and make tangible new and alternative understandings of the notion and practice of justice” and laments the fact that restorative justice scholars have been latecomers to grasping this power of images.[1]

When we consider the complex concept of justice, the most common image encountered is that of Lady Justice. Lady Justice is generally depicted wearing a blindfold and carrying scales and a sword. The blindfold is meant to represent impartiality, the scales signify fairness and the weighing of evidence, and the sword symbolizes the authority to punish.Lady justice standard image

Restorative justice challenges the concept of justice communicated by the Lady Justice image in almost all of its elements. As Pali notes, “from a restorative justice perspective, the sword, the scales, and the blindfold mainly represent the limitations of formal justice, where justice is seen as harsh, rigid, and unable to see the injuries imposed in her name.”[2]

Pali’s article inspired me to think about how I would visually portray the restorative concept of justice. Because of the strong association of the word “justice” with the image of Lady Justice, I felt that an effective restorative justice image would need to be in conversation with the Lady Justice image. How could the Lady Justice image be modified to communicate the ways in which the restorative concept of justice differs from the punitive justice she personifies?

I began to wonder about a Lady of Restorative Justice, who has taken off her blindfold in order to see the complex humanity and individual needs of each person involved in the process. She would have hung up her sword and scales, and taken her place as an equal member of the circle, leaning in, intently and compassionately listening to the stories of the people present and what each person needed to repair the harms and make things right.

I reached out to a local Wellington artist, Phil Dickson, who agreed to illustrate the idea. This is the image he created.

Lady Justice circle image

What concept of justice do you think this image communicates? How would you illustrate restorative justice?

 

[1] Brunilda Pali, “Images of Alternative Justice: The Alternative of Restorative Justice,” Crime, Media, and Popular Culture  (2017): 11.

[2] Ibid., 5.

How Can Circles Benefit Spiritual Communities?

About a month ago, a local church approached our team about how they could implement restorative practices in their community. They are a very diverse church with many English language learners who have recently moved to New Zealand from other countries. Especially because of these language and cultural barriers, it can be difficult for all 50+ members of the church to feel connected. Like any community, there is also sometimes conflict, and they were looking for tools to help them work through the issues that occasionally come up.

As a church committed to following the lived example of Jesus, they were also interested in the work of reconciliation and peacemaking, and wanted to be involved in that sacred work within their community.

They decided to do a four-week series on the theme of becoming a restorative church, and I was asked to come on week three to facilitate a circle experience. The idea was that we would give the community an experience of relationship-building circles, to strengthen their connections to each other and each member’s sense of belonging. Then, when issues come up in the future, there would already be familiarity and comfort with the circle process as a structure for holding those more difficult conversations.

I arrived an hour early to sit down with a group of five volunteer facilitators from the community who had been asked to take on the role because they were perceived as good listeners and natural, gentle leaders. I started by facilitating a circle with them, so that they could know what if feels like, and then we debriefed the experience and talked through the essential elements of facilitating and any questions they had. They had all been asked ahead of time to bring treasured objects to use as their talking pieces.

We also had four volunteer translators from the community, who were given the circle questions and an overview of the circle process ahead of time.

After the standard service, I gave a quick introduction to circles and then helped to divide the congregation into five circle groups, with a translator in each group that needed one. The facilitators then led their circles through the three rounds of questions (which you can see in the circle guide below).

I kept an eye on all five circles and then brought everyone back together at the end to talk about the experience. The community shared beautiful reflections about how it felt like a sacred space was created in the circle, like God was truly present. One newer member of the church said this was the first time he had really felt something in his heart since coming. The groups reflected on laughing and crying together and the beauty of being able to hear each other’s languages and connect with each other with the help of the translators.

Taking the time to connect with each other in a meaningful way is so life giving in a community. For me, circles are a place where the divine feels so tangible. If you are part of a spiritual community, offer to facilitate a circle process. You will be amazed by the outcome!

 

Circle Guide

  • Welcome
  • Purpose of the Connection Circle (to build connection and community, to get to know each other on a deeper level, to practice the circle structure)
  • Establish Group Rules
    • Please listen and speak with respect
    • Respect everyone’s privacy by not sharing what is said in the circle
    • Speak only when you have the talking piece and share time fairly
    • You may pass and we will come back to you
    • Practice patience
  • Introduce Talking Piece
    • Significance of object used
    • How it relates to the question
  • Question Round(s) (you may have time for 1, 2, or 3 rounds of questions)
    • Round 1: Please share your name and a story connected to your name (this could be what your name means, how your name was chosen, what you think of your name, or any other story related to your name).
    • Round 2: What do you feel grateful for this week?
    • Round 3: What experience in your life have you learned the most from? What did you learn?
  • Close the Circle
    • Thank everyone for participating
    • Reflection and tie it all together ending

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