Dr. Jo Stone and I had a recent opportunity to present the principles of restorative justice to one hundred twenty-five seventh and eighth graders and their teachers.
This invitation came to Northern Arizona Restorative Justice (NARJ) after several employees at Daniel Bright Elementary attended the training we hosted this summer. The enthusiasm to see restorative practices in school comes as administrators and teachers see how a paradigm shift on punishment can powerfully impact the kids in their classroom. This is part of a statewide interest in restorative practices being implemented in schools across Arizona.
As we spoke about restorative principles, we naturally created a space where the teachers and students felt open to share. They expressed their truth with curiosity and a little perplexity. This process was new to them. What did it look like to discuss subjects that many felt ashamed to talk about, without shame and blame?
The answer to that question is an ongoing active community creation, but the question is the right one to ask.
The answer to that question has to do with the effect of shame and blame. Psychologically, shame and blame create negative ideas, particularly of oneself.
Shame and blame plant the seeds for a lifetime of insecurity, negativity and defensiveness. There is a solution, however.
The key to the solution is awareness and courage. If you're courageous enough to admit what you are ashamed of, you can become aware of how your negative self-image and negative worldview impact you and others. You learn that because of these beliefs, you have more than likely created hurt out of your own hurt, within yourself and others.
When someone is shamed as a punishment, they are separated from the group. When blame is cast, it is an act of casting a person out of the group.
Once a separation is created in a group, the entire community suffers. The hurting child in the corner bursts out in disruption and the bully laughs at his pain. The energy of everyone in the classroom is distracted by the yearning for acceptance and connection.
The classroom of kids could understand this. They felt the yearnings of unmet needs of themselves and others.
Kids understand the injustices of the world sometimes better than adults do.
They can actually teach us, if we are wise enough to listen. Often we have to listen through a lot of stuff that seems irrelevant and is challenging to hear before we get close to understanding what the heart of the matter is. The bully may laugh 1000 times at the idea of opening their heart, the hurting kids may remain silent, but when they finally bear witness to the restorative process, they are drawn in like a moth to a flame.
Wise men have said that the result of the truth is freedom. These are two of the things we seek in restorative justice: truth and freedom.
We encourage kids to see the truth beyond their limited view. We encourage them to share and to listen. We encourage them to see the truth of their actions, and what lies behind them, as well as the actions and feelings of others. We encourage kids to find freedom in creating healthy relationships through the simplicity of coming together in a circle without shame or blame.
When adults witness kids finding truth and freedom in a restorative circle, they too walk away changed.
Healthy relationships teach us that conflict happens. Hurt happens. But these things that happen to us don't need to become things that create cycles of trauma and abuse.
Restorative circles can break the cycle.
Download a free copy of 10 restorative principles at NARJ.org. Contemplate these principles, and talk about them with your family and friends. Sometimes creating restoration begins with people sitting in a circle.