Storytelling: Simple but profound
Apr 06, 2011
I hesitate to write about storytelling and restorative justice as a lot of people have written about the profound impact of this form of communication. A quick search for the term “storytelling” on Restorative Justice Online returns 29 different entries by people such as Kris Miner and Kay Pranis. Yet, I’ve recently been reminded of how important storytelling can be not only in communication but for an individual processing through pain and loss.
I remember talking with a woman who had lost her son in an automobile accident that involved drunk driving. She expressed a series of emotions ranging from grief to anger to denial. In telling me about the impact of her son’s death, she also described her anger and frustration with the criminal justice system in that her family was denied an opportunity to tell their story. She summed up all this in saying that they deserved the right to have the conference with the young man who had been driving that day. They deserved to be able to tell him how profoundly that one night had changed their lives.
For this one mother, storytelling was an essential way of communicating. She needed to be able to describe the horror of learning that her son had been in an accident, of going to the hospital to identify the body, and the burden of all the decisions that followed. Most importantly, being able to communicate this in a holistic way – meaning expressing emotions as well as recounting events – to the young man responsible for the accident was something that she desperately wanted.
I was reminded of this conversation as I read the reflection of a colleague facilitating his first Sycamore Tree Project® course in Australia. In describing week three of the eight week course that brings together unrelated victims and offenders, he recounted how three of the participants spontaneously began to share more deeply about their personal stories of victimisation including one person who son had been brutally murdered. In reflecting on their time together he says:
“Many of these people have been harmed by our court system and have never been allowed to tell their stories, but the Sycamore Tree Project® gently opens up the space for this to happen. I am so privileged to be able to guide this conversation into unexpected and unseen terrain.”
The space to tell one’s story and to be heard and understood is a powerful place to be. Not only to the one telling the story but also for the ones receiving the story and those creating the space for storytelling. That is one of the gifts of restorative process -- whether indirect processes such as the Sycamore Tree Project® or direct victim offender encounters. These processes open spaces for authentic communication that allows connections on very human levels. And, as my colleague from Australia, I feel privileged to be able to offer that space.