Restorative Practices are practices in which one places relationships and repairing harm, above punitive and punishing notions. These practices allow us to engage with one another when there is conflict, to hold each other accountable and to give the person who is harmed an opportunity to share how they were impacted. Restorative practices are about centering the person who has been harmed, rather than focusing on how best to punish the person who causes the harm. These practices seek to bring communities together and strengthen relationships.
Restorative practices can be used in a broad range of situations, from small interactions, like micro-aggressions, to formal circles, like a post incarceration setting with some who committed murder. These practices can empower people to address personal conflict and difficult interactions in healthy ways. We know from experience that circles can, and do, bring closure that punishment and harsh sentences do not.
I’ve used restorative practices in situations where there’s been past harm done within the congregation or community. Communities where it is clear that something has happened, but people seem reluctant to discuss the issue or situation aloud. These larger circles can allow the opportunity for people to speak about their experiences, to air grievances and losses, and to share how the situation or issue impacted them. This process creates opportunities for bravery and self-disclosure, which can be instrumental for healing and health.
In another faith community I served, two leaders had an ongoing feud. They were not willing to work with each other at all, and they had resorted to public name calling. They were disrupting the community and it was definitely something that needed to be addressed. They leaders were invited to meet with me privately where we discussed the format of a restorative meeting. They were introduced to the restorative questions* and asked to respond honestly.
In this case the restorative questions had to modified a bit, because in this particular situation it was unclear where the original harm had begun and both had caused harm with bad behavior.
We talked about their experience working together how they felt they been harmed, and what they felt needed to happen in order to change things. While this process did not more these two leaders to became friends, they were able to work together effectively. Restorative practices allowed the opportunity for them raise and address real and perceived slights, and to model a mature response to conflict, allowing the community to find some peace.
Restorative practices are not a panacea, but that can offer us a path or process for responding to conflict and harm in our communities.
For the Person who cause the harm (offender):
What happened, and what were you thinking at the time?
What have you thought about since?
Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
What about this has been hardest for you?
What do you think you need to do to make things as right as possible?
For the person who was harmed (victim):
What did you think when you realized what was happening?
What impact has this incident had on you and others?
What has been the hardest thing for you?
What do you things to happen to make things right?