Restorative terminology: A modest proposal
May 02, 2011
by Dan Van Ness
Howard Zehr suggests that at the core of restorative justice are the values of respect, responsibility and relationship. Respect for others, genuine responsibility that acknowledges the true extent to which my actions affect others, and a recognition that the universe is relational and not merely material, all are reflected in what we call restorative justice.
But should we apply that term to all attempts to follow those values?
For example, is civility restorative justice? I recently received an email message from an interesting group called Civilination whose mission "is to foster an online culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment, or lies." In other words, they want online culture to reflect respect, responsibility and relationships. They believe their work is connected to restorative justice and wanted us to inform our readers of their important work (which we've now done!).
Is a "check-in" circle to find out how members of a class are doing this morning -- no conflicts to work out, no rules broken -- restorative justice? Or what about mediation of a misunderstanding between neighbours?
Some people are calling these restorative justice, and it is easy to see their connection to the original usage of the term: repairing the harm caused by crime using a collaborative methods (some would add "when possible").
Ted Wachtel has suggested that restorative practices should be what we call the various forms of collaborative encounter and that restorative justice is the term we should apply when those are used in the context of criminal justice. This is very helpful, not only because it is hard to get educators to apply the term "justice" to dealing with problems in the classroom, but also because not all disputes have the public dimension that criminal justice matters do.
But then what do we call it when we come to apply restorative values in all parts of our lives? When we try to listen respectfully to others, when we act with civility, when we pause to remember that people have intrinsic value and that relationships are not merely allegiances? At those points we have moved to something even broader than restorative practices: we've moved to something we might call restorative living.
So my modest proposal is that we begin to use the term "restorative living" when we think of being guided by restorative values, the term "restorative practices" when we are speaking of the more limited numbers of occasions when we use collaborative encounters, and "restorative justice" when those values and practices are carried out in the context of the criminal justice system.
What do you think?