What is Restorative Justice?

The exact definition of restorative justice has been a source of great debate and remains contentious within the restorative justice field. Broadly speaking, two general conceptions of restorative justice have been put forth: a process conception and a values conception.[1]

The process conception sees restorative justice as, “a process that brings together all stakeholders affected by some harm that has been done… These stakeholders meet in a circle to discuss how they have been affected by the harm and come to some agreement as to what should be done to right any wrongs suffered.”[2] Some scholars have maintained that this process can take place in a range of contexts, including schools, workplaces, and other areas of civil society, while others see restorative justice strictly and solely as an alternative process for addressing crime. The most notable of these scholars is Kathleen Daly, who has asserted that restorative justice is a “justice mechanism.”[3]

“Restorative justice is a contemporary justice mechanism to address crime, disputes, and bounded community conflict. The mechanism is a meeting (or several meetings) of affected individuals, facilitated by one or more impartial people. Meetings can take place at all phases of the criminal process – prearrest, diversion from court, presentence, and postsentence – as well as for offending or conflicts not reported to police. Specific practices will vary, depending on context, but are guided by rules and procedures that align with what is appropriate in the context of the crime, dispute or bounded conflict.”

Kathleen Daly, “What Is Restorative Justice? Fresh Answers to a Vexed Question,” Victims & Offenders

In her analysis, Daly seeks to strip away the values and philosophical claims to look only at the process, a process that can be empirically studied and compared to other justice mechanisms.[4]

Proponents of the values conception argue that restorative justice represents a greater paradigm shift than that, a new way of thinking about our response to crime and conflict, with common principles and values as the unifying factor between different restorative justice modalities. Following that line of reasoning, Zehr has offered the following definition of restorative justice:

“Restorative justice is an approach to achieving justice that involves, to the extent possible, those who have stake in a specific offense or harm to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”

Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice [5]

Rather than defining restorative justice as a specific process or procedure, this conception sees restorative justice as better defined by the approach to justice the process takes and the principles and values underlying this approach.

Gerry Johnstone and Daniel Van Ness refer to this as the “reparative conception” of restorative justice. In this view, restorative justice is defined by its assertion that the response to crime or conflict must seek to repair the harms resulting from the incident or bring about healing.[6] It is not solely the process or encounter, but rather this new way of understanding and approaching crime and conflict that is the defining feature of restorative justice.

Others take an even wider approach to the values definition of restorative justice, understanding it as a fundamentally different way of seeing the community as a whole, founded on common beliefs and a vision of a more ideal possible societal future. Johnstone and Van Ness refer to this definition of restorative justice as the “transformative conception.” In the transformative conception, humans are seen as fundamentally relational beings, connected to one another and to our environment.[7] It is the mission of the restorative movement to transform individuals and social structures to be in alignment with this more relational and connected worldview. Kay Pranis similarly identifies underlying beliefs or assumptions about the nature of the universe and its operation that she argues are at the base of restorative justice work. These beliefs include that there is a core human need to be in good relationships, that all humans are connected and interdependent, that wisdom resides in each person, and that justice is healing.[8] Johnstone asserts that, grounded in these beliefs, restorative justice operates as a wider social movement. This social movement seeks not only to transform the community’s response to crime, but also other aspects of contemporary society.[9]

In my view, both the process and the values conceptions of restorative justice are important and mutually reinforcing. Braithwaite and Strang note, “It is best to see restorative justice as involving a commitment to both restorative processes and restorative values.”[10] Restorative justice cannot be understood solely as a process or a “justice mechanism;” the greater social aspirations and distinct value system the movement has birthed plainly indicate the need for a more expansive understanding. Nor can the restorative social movement be adequately understood when separated from the processes by which the values are experienced.

Excerpt from Lindsey Pointer, Justice Performed: The Normative, Transformative, and Proleptic Dimensions of the Restorative Justice Ritual, PhD diss., Victoria University of Wellington, 2019. 

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[1] John Braithwaite and Heather Strang, “Introduction: Restorative Justice and Civil Society,” in Restorative Justice and Civil Society, ed. John Braithwaite and Heather Strang (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kathleen Daly, “What Is Restorative Justice? Fresh Answers to a Vexed Question,” Victims & Offenders  (2015): 13.

[4] Ibid., 14-15.

[5] Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Revised and Updated (New York: Good Books, 2015), 48.

[6] Gerry Johnstone and Daniel Van Ness, “The Meaning of Restorative Justice,” in Handbook of Restorative Justice, ed. Gerry Johnstone and Daniel Van Ness (Portland: Willan Publishing, 2007), 17.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Kay Pranis, “Restorative Values,” ibid., 65-66.

[9] Gerry Johnstone, “The Agendas of the Restorative Justice Movement,” in Restorative Justice: From Theory to Practice (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Volume 11), ed. Holly Ventura Miller (Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2008) 59.

[10] Braithwaite and Strang, “Introduction: Restorative Justice and Civil Society,” 2.

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.

Learning to Work “With” (The Social Discipline Window)


“Human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”

– Ted Wachtel

The Social Discipline Window describes four basic approaches to addressing behavior that needs to be changed. Restorative practitioners use this tool to gauge the best response to a specific incident or ongoing issue. The four strategies are represented as different combinations of high or low control and high or low support. The word “control” never seems like quite the right fit to me, so I instead use “expectations of behavior” or “accountability.” The restorative domain combines high expectations of behavior and high support and is characterized by doing things with people, rather than to them or for them. A restorative approach allows us to address the problematic behavior, while also practicing empathy and maintaining a strong relationship.

Take, for example, a student who is repeatedly disruptive in class, speaking over the teacher and making loud comments and jokes.

The Neglectful strategy is to not do anything, to hope that the student will just eventually stop.

The Punitive strategy is punishment, doing something to the person who is misbehaving. The teacher might give the student detention or remove privileges like being able to come on a field trip. The strategy holds the student to a high expectation of behavior, but has very little support. This strategy may result in animosity between the teacher and student, and will not address the core issues or needs contributing to the problematic behavior.

The Permissive strategy is when we do things for someone. We accept their excuses or make excuses for them. The teacher might tell herself that the student is just trying to be liked by the other students because he has been having trouble making friends, or that his unrestrained enthusiasm is a sign that he is enjoying the class. A possible outcome is that other students, seeing that a high expectation of behavior is not upheld, will similarly begin to speak out of turn, and the teacher will slowly lose the respect of the class and the ability to facilitate an effective learning space.

The Restorative strategy is when we work with the person to resolve the issue. The teacher would speak with the disruptive student one-on-one, explain the impacts his disruptive behavior, and respectfully ask the student about his experience and what is going on. This keeps communication open and allows the teacher to find out what needs are contributing to the student’s misbehavior. Is the student having trouble making friends? Are there troubles at home that are impacting the student’s behavior at school? Are there other more productive ways that the student would like to be an outgoing leader in the classroom? Does the student need additional material to challenge him and keep him on task? The teacher and student would work together to understand what are the barriers to meeting the behavior expectations and how can those barriers be addressed.

What strikes me about the restorative strategy for addressing behavior issues is the humility it requires on the part of the teacher, facilitator, parent or other person of authority. Rather than thinking that we know best and approaching the problem with an already formed answer (as is the case in both the punitive and the permissive strategies), the restorative strategy approaches the issue by asking questions, with a humble and compassionate desire to better understand. It is the only strategy that allows us to actually get to the core of the issue.

There are a few strategies you can use to address conflicts and issues in your own life restoratively.

  1. Ask questions! Don’t assume that you know why a person is doing something, what their needs are, or the best strategy for making things right. Remember to make questions open-ended (so they can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”) and to use a tone of respect and non-judgment.
  2. In approaching an issue, follow the framework of the three central restorative questions.
    1. What happened?
    2. Who was affected and how?
    3. What is needed to repair the harms and make things right?
  1. Commit some time to self-reflection and identify which strategy in the Social Discipline Window is your default response. Are you prone to avoiding conflict and doing nothing, to jumping straight to punishment, or to making or accepting excuses for poor behavior? Knowing this about yourself will help you to know which direction you need to push yourself. Do you need to remind yourself to hold high expectations of behavior with the people in your life or do you need to remember to take a step back and show support?

In each of the communities and interactions that make up our lives, the Social Discipline Window offers us a tool for thinking about how to approach issues and conflicts more restoratively.

Building a Restorative University

Increasingly, restorative justice is being used as a response to discipline issues on college campuses with encouraging results. Research by sociologists David Karp and Casey Sacks has shown that compared to the traditional conduct model, restorative practices result in fewer appeals, less serious reoffending, higher participant satisfaction, and improvement in student learning.[1]

It is estimated that around 10% of American universities have introduced restorative policies. Articles in the New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the College Student Journal have commended the use of restorative approaches on campuses.

Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand has also seen positive results following the implementation of restorative justice to handle incidents of student misconduct. We began accepting referrals of student misconduct cases from Residential Life in February 2016 and the interest and enthusiasm for the process has grown through this first year of successful implementation. Through the use of restorative justice, the university has been able to avoid suspension, expulsion, and the eviction of students from university housing and has instead offered a process that more fully integrates students into the community.

Victoria University has also gone beyond the implementation of restorative justice as a response to discipline issues to begin to create a Restorative University that fosters positive relationships founded on mutual care, respect, responsibility, and honest communication at all levels.  A restorative community is one in which every member is valued and feels they belong, where all contribute to the common good and where conflict is handled in ways that promote accountability and respect. This restorative community is being built through the intentional implementation of restorative practices such as connection circles and the restorative conversation model that build, maintain and repair relationships within the university community throughout the year.

This effort to build a Restorative University began during the annual training for Residential Advisors in February 2016. The Chair of Restorative Justice staff was given the opportunity to provide an afternoon training that introduced the RAs to the restorative justice approach and also taught them how to use a connection circle model to build relationships among the residents on their floor and establish group norms. The RAs were also taught how to use the connection circle to respond to behaviors that impact the entire community such as vandalism, messiness and noise. The connection circle is facilitated using a “talking piece” so that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak.

One RA sent the following report back after using the Connection Circle tool with her hall. She describes using a pair of scissors as a talking piece.

“I held a circle meeting with my floor of residents for our first floor meeting and it was WONDERFUL. After some gentle and funny ice breakers, I introduced the idea and started it off with a pair of scissors that hadn’t left my hands for the last week in preparing the decorations for the floor for them. I explained the scissors symbolized my dedication to the floor and the open space I wanted to create for the sharing of ideas and skills. I set the intention of the circle as a discussion of our values/rules that are important to make everyone feel at home. The first few people passed them on without saying much, but once they got talking it was awesome! I was writing them up on a piece of card to keep on the wall and it was things like ‘Smiling at everyone,’ ‘Celebrating peoples’ birthdays’ as well as rules about cleanliness and noise. Really such a great way to start the year!” –Residential Advisor

As 2016 continued, we offered a Connection Circle training for Residential Life professional staff and encouraged training participants to use the process with staff groups, RAs, and students. We also provided training on Restorative Conversations for resolving one-on-one conflict. We received very positive feedback for these trainings as participants began integrating restorative approaches into their life at the university.

“Building restorative practice both in daily conversations and within Hall communities is extremely important. We need to move away from disciplinary and blame to mending / fixing what is broken.” – Training Participant

As the number of referrals for restorative justice conferences continued to increase, we saw a need to form a team of restorative justice facilitators who could be assigned to facilitate cases after they were vetted by the Chair of Restorative Justice staff. In September 2016, we trained a group of 16 Victoria University staff members in Restorative Justice facilitation. The group that went through the training is highly skilled and very passionate about restorative approaches. We are now entering the 2017 school year with our capacity to expand implementation greatly increased. The restorative justice facilitator training also received high praise from participants.

“[My favourite part of the training was] the intelligence and skill of the facilitators, who delivered a top class programme that had me gently captivated from the beginning until the end… Realizing where our group arrived to at the end of three days was testament to exceptional, considered and meticulous planning in taking us on this RJ journey.  The attitude of the facilitators set a tone of respect and confidence right from pre-training communication… I felt fortunate from the beginning to be part of the group and felt a pang of sadness when it concluded.  I have experienced training where I am ready for it to be over by the end, however in this case at the end it left me wanting to know more.” – Training Participant

As the momentum has grown within Residential Life, interest has has quickly spread to Counseling and the Wellness Team. We are in the process of setting up training offerings with these groups as we move into the 2017 school year.

Interest in the work being done at Victoria University has also spread to other universities. In October 2016, my colleagues and I traveled to the University of Newcastle in Australia to provide a restorative justice facilitator training for members of their staff and to support and advise implementation of the process. We have already received further interest from other universities in New Zealand and Australia.

It is clear that the growth of the Restorative University model is filling a much-needed gap for campus communities. We know that student behavior, learning and happiness are grounded in feelings of belonging and of knowing that they are valued as individuals within a connected and supportive community. This feeling of belonging and connection is only accomplished when we devote time and energy to intentionally building, maintaining and repairing relationships. Restorative practices offer a concrete tools and a grounding philosophy to build these thriving communities.

[1] David R. Karp & Casey Sacks, “Student Conduct, Restorative Justice, and Student Development,” Contemporary Justice Review 17/2 (2014), pp. 154-72.

How Does Restorative Justice Help Offenders Avoid a Downward Spiral?

Type of process: Community Group Conference

Conference Participants:

  • Offender- Micah
  • Hall Manager- Lauren
  • RAs/Impacted Parties- John, Paul and Beth
  • 2 Facilitators

Disciplinary Measure Pending: Being evicted from the Residential Hall

Referring agent: University Residential Life staff

Factual Synopsis: While suffering from extreme stress in his school, work, and relationship life, Micah drank to the point of severe intoxication in his dorm room. While intoxicated, he broke his window attempting to illegally access a balcony, was extremely aggressive towards a neighbor and volatile with RAs, and ultimately tried to jump out the window. Police were called and took him to the station for a mental health assessment.

Note: The neighbor who was involved opted to not participate in the Restorative Justice process. Restorative Justice is voluntary for all participants.


Micah told the co-facilitator and me that he takes pride in his ability to do it all. Before this incident, Micah was working 35 hours per week at two jobs on top of being a full-time student studying architecture. During the pre-conference, Micah described that on a normal day, he would go to classes, get done at about 3pm, go to work, work until 11pm, eat dinner and then start his homework, leaving him only a couple hours to sleep before he got up to do it all again. When it felt like he was losing control of something, like when his grades started to slip, he would respond by piling more on. He was good at his jobs. His manager at the supermarket promoted him and gave him more hours, so when school wasn’t going well, he threw himself into more work. He was operating like this for a while, on very little sleep, ignoring the issues with his school work and piling more on to not deal with it when he found out his long distance girlfriend cheated on him. Micah described it as a sort of breaking point. Once his personal life was in shambles too, he just couldn’t take it.

To deal with the stress, Micah started drinking. He drank a few bottles of wine alone in his room. He attempted to reach out to a friend to talk, but she was busy with school work, so he continued to drink. Eventually, he tried to get out on the balcony by crawling through his window and in the process, accidentally put his head through the glass. At that point, he went down to tell the RA on duty (Beth) about the broken glass. Beth could immediately see that Micah was not doing well. He was angry with his next door neighbor and was screaming at him. Eventually, both Beth and the neighbor were in the room and Micah was physically blocking them from leaving. He continued screaming at the neighbor and was highly emotional. Beth texted another RA (Paul) for help. After Paul arrived, Beth and Paul were able to get the neighbor out of the room. What followed was over an hour of emotional volatility with Micah screaming, crying, and disclosing information about his girlfriend who had cheated. Paul and Beth were unable to get Micah to settle down or go to sleep so fearing for his safety and the safety of others, called the Hall Manager Lauren who advised them to call the police as well. Another RA who was in the hall that night, John, also arrived to help escort the police to the room.

The police initially decided that Micah wasn’t a threat and exited the room along with Lauren, Beth, and Paul. John was in the room alone with Micah when all the sudden he stood up, looked out the window and said, “John, I’m going to jump out this window and there is nothing you can do to stop me.” John called out for the police who came into the room and after a physical struggle, were eventually able to handcuff Micah and take him to the station for a mental health assessment.

Micah was given a room outside of the hall to stay in and temporarily banned from the hall while arrangements were made for the restorative justice meeting. He was also instructed to begin meeting regularly with the Student Support Coordinator (Jenny). Jenny helped Micah to get extensions for his assignments from his professors so that he was able to take some time to recover from the breakdown.

Throughout the pre-conference and conference, it was clear that Micah has some more serious mental health issues that contributed to his inability to adequately track the conversation and his manic behavior. Mental health concerns can add a difficult component to restorative justice because the process is not therapy and cannot provide the full services that the offender needs. What is important is to remember that behavior communicates needs. In this case, Micah’s breakdown signals a need for greater emotional and well-being support through regular meetings with a counselor. Therefore, when we talked about what needed to happen next to repair the harms and make things right, the first thing that was suggested was for Micah to get the counselling support required in order to not have a breakdown like this again. He ended up agreeing to a weekly meeting with a counselor in addition to the weekly meeting with the Jenny, the Student Support Coordinator and expressed that both of these meetings would be very helpful.

Restorative justice cannot operate without access to other resources to help fulfill the needs that so often fuel crime. The gift of restorative justice is that the process is able to surface those needs so that they can be addressed and so that the response to the crime or rule violation does not cause further harm. In Micah’s case, if this incident had happened last year before the University began using Restorative Justice, Micah would have been immediately evicted from the Residential Hall with no further contact or support. He would have been cut off from his community of friends, would not have the encouragement or structure to pursue counselling, and would need to find a new place to live. With the overwhelm Micah was already facing, my guess is that these added stressors would have resulted in a downward spiral and further breakdowns.

We see this so often in the mainstream justice system. An offender commits a crime to fulfill a need (whether that is for food, or safety, or mental health support, or clothing for an interview, or respect) and often the crime is a last resort and signals that parts of the person’s life are in serious disarray. Instead of relieving the stressors that led to the crime by working to identify the needs behind the behavior, the criminal justice system often just adds to the stress with fines, curfews, loss of privileges or incarceration. Rather than finding a way to redress the harm, further harm is caused.

Instead, in Micah’s case, he was provided with a different place to live near his friends, but away from the room with the window that could access the balcony, he decided to leave both jobs and focus on his school work, he began attending weekly counselling and support meetings to get the help he needs, and he has committed to giving back positively to the residential hall.

Restorative Management

Increasingly, restorative practices are being applied in a wide range of sectors, reaching far beyond the criminal justice system and school discipline. The Chair of Restorative Justice at Victoria University is involved in implementing restorative practices in the University residential halls, in workplaces, in elder abuse cases, in the police complaints process, with surgeons as a response to medical errors, and even in forming entire restorative cities. More applications are emerging every day. Clearly, prioritizing relationships and learning new ways of responding to conflict are something the human community is craving. There is a great deal of creativity that goes into thinking about how the principles of restorative practices can be applied and enacted in diverse contexts. For restorative practitioners, this often involves looking inward at where we can learn to use restorative practices with loved ones, in the workplace, and in daily interactions.

The restorative justice non-profit I worked with in Colorado (LCJP) strives to form a restorative community among the staff and volunteers in addition to building these practices in the wider community. The organization is incredibly fortunate to have a leader whose commitment to walking the talk and creatively living out our message to the community is a shining example of the transformation that can occur when a group of people truly commits themselves to these practices. I have been reflecting lately on some of the instances of restorative management I saw Kathleen bring to our team and would like to share a few of those lessons here.

Lesson one: Always make time for relationships.

My first interview with Kathleen was from the living room of my apartment in China. It was 4am for me and I was equal parts excited and nervous. Kathleen asked all of the questions she needed to ask (about my prior experience, testing my Spanish proficiency, assessing my understanding of restorative justice), but still we spent nearly half of the interview laughing about the challenges of living abroad, how much I missed cheese, and what I would be eating when I got back to the US. This pattern has continued through every meeting we’ve ever had. The work always gets done and is done well, but plenty of time is made to laugh together, to check in about our lives, and offer support. Every meeting with the whole staff begins with a connection circle in which each staff member answers a relationship-building question. The staff takes turns facilitating those circles.

Above all else, restorative practices prioritize the building and maintaining of relationships. We all have a want and a need to feel belonging and the only way to accomplish that is through opportunities for genuine connection. Furthermore, positive interpersonal relationships are a major influence on behavior. Research has shown that when we feel connected, heard, and appreciated at work, productivity increases. It is always worth the time to spend fifteen minutes laughing about cheese before you get down to business.

Lesson two: See and encourage individual passions.

Restorative practices place a great deal of emphasis on being strengths-based. This means identifying and supporting an individual’s assets: the positive passions, skills, interests, and connections that make him/her unique.

In any job, there are certain tasks that must be done, but beyond those tasks, there is normally some flexibility. So much of workplace satisfaction comes from giving individuals the opportunity to use their unique skills and pursue their passions through their job. In my case, this looked like Kathleen assigning me training development tasks and helping me to become a better trainer through feedback, encouragement, and new opportunities. I spent extra time in conferences both as a facilitator and community member and wrote case studies and proposals for us to present at conferences. These extra pieces often spilled into evenings and weekends, but ultimately fueled my enthusiasm and energy for the rest of the work.

Lesson three: Establish a productive way for staff to deal with conflict and remain open to feedback.

Within the toolbox of restorative practices is a conversation model called the restorative conversation. This is a way of addressing one-on-one conflict that focusses on the impacts and what can be done to make things right moving forward. As an organization, we trained volunteers in this method so that they would have a restorative way to resolves disputes among themselves over unreturned phone calls or differences in facilitation styles. The restorative conversation is also encouraged as a way for staff to deal with conflict and all members of the staff are training in the model.

During the first training that Kathleen and I delivered as co-trainers, I was thrown off when she introduced herself as the lead trainer because it didn’t fit with the training dynamic we had discussed before. I have always been shy and soft-spoken and still appear very young so I work hard to establish myself as a confident expert at the beginning of trainings and presentations. When it was my turn to introduce myself next, I felt out of the flow. The training went well, but still, throughout the weekend the introduction was sitting heavily with me. When Kathleen and I sat down the following week to debrief the training, I brought it up. I asked her permission to share something from the training that was sitting heavily with me and explained the introduction. I shared how much I enjoyed training together and how excited I was to be moving into the role and I also shared how I had been impacted by the introduction, how it had confused me and shaken my confidence. Kathleen listened attentively and showed that she heard me. She explained the thoughts that had been going through her head at the beginning of the training and the nervousness she had experienced. Together, we formed a plan for how introductions would happen the next time we trained together and she followed through. After the next training we ran together, she made time to check in with me to see if the introductions felt good. Because we had a tool for dealing with conflict, I didn’t have to let the feeling fester, we were able to hear each other and form and commit to a plan to make things better.

Lesson four: Listen and show you are listening.

About a month before Christmas, Kathleen facilitated the connection circle at our regular staff meeting and asked the question “How do you like to be appreciated?” One staff member mentioned that she likes to be included in things, in making plans. Another said she just likes to hear a genuine, heart-felt thank you. I said that I am very verbal, so like to hear that I am appreciated. I shared that I still had a voicemail that Kathleen had sent me after a busy week, saying she appreciated all of my hard work, saved on my phone so that I could listed to it from time to time. I thought it was a great connection circle question, but didn’t think much more about it until Christmas came around a few weeks later. When each of us opened our present from Kathleen, we found a message of appreciation in the way we had said we most liked to receive it. In my case, I opened a small box to find a note that said “Check your email.” When I checked my email, there was a voicemail from Kathleen sharing how much she appreciated me!

Active listening is a pillar of restorative practices. Facilitators are taught to show that they are listening in the moment through eye contact, body language, questions, and reflective statements. Real listening though, goes beyond the moment.

Lesson five: Create experiences of connection and appreciation.  

On my last day of work before moving to New Zealand, the staff was all together doing a New Year’s purge and cleaning of the house. At the end of the day, Kathleen gathered us together for a final staff meeting before my departure. She opened the connection circle and invited each person to share a favorite memory of working with me or something they really loved about me. I cried throughout the entire circle hearing the wonderful things everyone had to say. I felt so seen and loved. I also had the opportunity to share my favorite memories and the things I love about each of the people in the circle. All the things that you want to say to the people you are close to, but so often never get the chance to say. As a goodbye gift to me, the team gave me the space to hear and say it all. Reflecting back on that circle, I am more and more struck by how lucky I am to have had that experience. So few people ever really get the chance to feel so seen. And yet, that is what we are all craving: that feeling of being a seen and adored individual within a supportive and interconnected whole. The more that we can learn to create these experiences for each other, the more we will learn to live in peace with one another. Bringing the values, the principles, and the tools of restorative practices into our daily lives is a great way to begin to do just that.

The Restorative Community: Between Individualist and Collectivist Cultural Orientations

While living in China, the difference between Individualist and Collectivist cultures was something I frequently contemplated. I remember a Chinese friend teaching me to play what he described as Chinese poker, a game in which players team up to defeat the randomly selected “rich one.” At the end of the game, either the “rich one” wins or the rest of the players share the title of champion. I remember being struck by how different the goal and outcome of the game were from the Texas hold’em I was accustomed to, in which players use secrecy and deception to take the entire pot for themselves, gleefully leaving their friends with nothing. I felt intrigued and endeared to the Chinese version of the game and its emphasis on teamwork and equality in outcome, but also sheepishly noted that I missed the glory of being the winner and secretly hoped to be the “rich one.” The contrast carried over into many areas of daily life. When I ate with others, it was at a round table with shared food in the middle that I would make a feeble attempt to scoop with my chopsticks into my small personal rice bowl. Before I became more comfortable with the chopsticks, Chinese friends would often take it upon themselves to skilfully transfer a hefty portion of eggplant or bamboo into my bowl with their own chopsticks. I reflected on times that I had refused a friend or family member a bite of cake or a french fry with a defensive, “Why didn’t you order your own?”

Growing up in the United States, I have often felt an attraction to collectivist cultures, to the emphasis on group harmony and consensus, and in many ways resonated with the interdependent view of self as part of a larger social network. I wondered if a shift towards a more collectivist mind-set might have a positive impact on corporate greed, environmental degradation, or even be a catalyst for teamwork towards creative ingenuity to solve big world problems.

While I was in China, this optimism faded as I saw some of the challenges of a collectivist society. I worked in a school teaching English. My students wore uniforms and were taught to sit in straight rows quietly and obediently, to memorize answers to test questions, and to repeat back the content of the teacher’s lecture. I taught first through fourth and seventh grade and by the middle school age, noticed that the students’ creativity had been severely inhibited by the educational model. This issue is reflected in the Chinese economy, which is highly productive, but ultimately struggles with innovation and creativity. In my students, I saw individuals, each with their own strengths, challenges, interests and unique passions that were not being nurtured or acknowledged beyond a score on a standardized test.

Living in New Zealand now, I have recently delivered several trainings for the Residential Life professional staff and student RAs on how to create a Restorative Community at Victoria University of Wellington. The idea of a Restorative Community goes beyond Restorative Justice as an alternative response to crime and wrong-doing and embraces a collection of Restorative Practices that build, maintain and repair relationships in a community. This community can be formed in a school, a workplace, an apartment or dorm, a city, or even possibly a nation. The guiding principles of a restorative community are that everyone wants and needs to belong and that positive interpersonal relationships are a major influence on behavior. Increasingly, I see Restorative Practices as not just a way to reform our justice system and the way we deal with harm in the community, I see it also as a radical new approach to our cultural orientation and the way we view our relationship to one another.

It is often noted that Restorative Justice includes a shift in thinking (in the Western context) to seeing the community as an interconnected whole, so that any one action has a ripple effect on others in the community. Crime is not just a broken law, it is more importantly a harm to the relationships that make up the community. Because we are interconnected, all that we do impacts others. When harm to those relationships occurs, it must be repaired in order for justice (or “right relationship”) to be restored. Restorative Justice also values the individual. Each person is responsible for his/her behaviors and actions. A strengths-based approached is utilized through a conscious surfacing of the offender’s strengths and assets both to assist in forming a plan for reparation of harms and to assist in reintegration through seeing the offender as more than his/her mistakes or poor decisions. Each person has something unique: passions and skills that can be used to repair harms and to contribute positively to the community.

When we look at a Restorative Community more broadly, the Restorative Practices that are implemented in these communities devote time and energy to creating a sense of interconnected relationships, fostering trust and openness. At the same time, space is made for each person to show up as an individual in the interconnected whole. Each person’s voice is given an opportunity to be heard and each person’s strengths are given an opportunity to make a positive contribution. In a Restorative Community, Individualist and Collectivist views do not need to be at odds. The things that make us unique and different from others can be honored within a deeply felt understanding of interconnected social relationships.

“Within present understandings of self and society in the West, what might be required for optimal well-being is a situation where individuals and groups are recognized and respected by themselves as distinct, but also as belonging within the community. When individuals experience the ‘too-littleness’ of isolation they may experience shame. But they may also experience it if their individuality and its boundaries are overwhelmed by social incursion, as in the surveillance societies of the former Community East… The end that is sought, then, appears to be that of persons in society who have been adequately respected and honoured as individuals and valued as members of some kind of community by those around them.”

– Stephen Pattison, Shame: Theory, Therapy, Theology

Video: Restorative Justice, Restorative Practices, Restorative Community

You may have heard the terms Restorative Justice, Restorative Practices, and Restorative Community, but what does each term mean and how do they relate to each other? 

This video endeavors to offer a clear explanation of how Restorative Practices, including Restorative Justice, function together to create a Restorative Community. A Restorative Community can be intentionally created in a school, workplace, neighborhood, city, or any other place where people come together.