Restorative Justice Circles work with curiosity and judgement.

Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea have written a beautiful book, The Circle Way

The style and format is different than a Restorative Justice Circle, but the theory and philosophy of Circle made it a great read for me.  If you are a fan of Circle process you’ll also want to read Christina’s book Calling the Circle.

This post is about a few statements from page 68 of the book.  The authors share:

“Judgement is a form of self-defense, a way of guaranteeing that one’s opinion or worldview is not about to be changed. When curiosity is replaces judgement as a thought process, it invites consideration of another’s opinion and worldview.  Curiosity and judgement cannot function simultaneously in the mind.”

Imagine the person who has an “us” and “them” mentality.  A person that has a clear distinction between the “have’s” and the “have not’s”.  Anytime we think things like, “I would never do that”, “that would never happen to me” then we are starting to raise our “us vs them” mentality.  This is judgement.

What restorative justice bring to people is an answer to curiosities.  Typically a victim wants to know “why did you do this to me?”.  When people want to seek some answers or clarification, they must be curious.  If a person wants to answers to simply confim judgements, a provider or restorative justice should explore this further.  Exploring motivations for restorative justice is important in preparing people for restorative justice dialogue.

I have found a wonderful way to prepare people is to simply begin with listening.  Just as curiosity opens us up to hear another, curiosity as an approach is good for a facilitator.  Be mindful if you have judgements coming up in a pre-conferencing session.  Stay with the curiosity about the person’s experience.  Let them put their experience out in front.

You can use curiosity effectively, by asking the victim about where they developed their understanding of the crime.  Maybe even ask is they have thought about why a person would commit a crime.  I hesitate to give a specific list of questions, because each victim is unique and you need to ask questions as your pre-conference unfolds, and where people are at.

I use little leads when speaking about Restorative Justice.  I acknowledge to my college students, or others I am teaching about RJ, that they are probably going to think “no way would I ever want to meet the person who killed my loved one”.  I say “that’s okay, but if you ever wanted to, or for people that do want to, don’t you agree the process should be available for them?”.  I take the judgement that I have heard many times over, and use it up front.

The tool to get curious when you are feeling judgemental could help all of us be a bit more inclusive.  Inclusiveness is a core part of Circles and Restorative Justice.