We have all had negative experiences. These can range from the relatively small to the absolutely tremendous, from the local shop being sold out on your favourite cereal to a relative dying. However, most of these experiences to be just that: temporary sensations or events that pass with time, whether it be in hours, in days, in years, and so on. Eventually – hopefully, we move on through making peace with what has happened. However, as an intern at RJ4All and as someone who has had to make peace with the past, I am interested in how restorative justice facilitates this process of making peace with the past and giving people the ability to move forward with their lives.
How we make peace with negative events
There are a variety of ways we cope with events and eventually make peace with them. For the sake of this blog, I want to discuss what some of these mechanisms of coping and acceptance may include. It has been argued that positive emotions help to buffer against stress1. In this sense, positivity itself can be a coping mechanism, but being in the presence of friends has also been found in these three tests to have a similarly buffering effect2.
Therefore, I argue that having good social support and a more positively-oriented mind can help stabilise people in the face of bad events. However, I have still not explained what exactly the mental processes of people are when coming to terms with bad events.
In regard to PTSD, “social support” is not the only factor in helping symptoms of PTSD to decline: “cognitive restructuring” and “expressed emotion” also contribute towards achieving this3. Based on this, we can come terms with past events through having support from their social circle, restructuring their thought processes (which can include therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and by expressing how we feel. It is not just a matter of having personal and interpersonal structures in place to buffer against negative events, but also having them after the event to sustain the recovery. Bearing this in mind, it to us becomes clearer how restorative justice can potentially help people to make peace with these past experiences.
How restorative justice can help facilitate these processes
Now, this is where restorative justice comes in, and what I find so interesting about it: it is this ability to help people make amends and move on. Not just the victims, but the offenders too. The main focus of restorative justice is on “healing the victim and healing the community at large”4, which is done through a variety of ways, including victim-offender mediation, healing circles, family group conferencing, and reparative councils. A running theme among all of these different processes is the focus on including the local community, with both the offenders and the victims of these crimes being brought together in these specific social contexts to initiate a healing process. As I already outlined, being supported on a social level helps people in making peace with negative or traumatic events.
One example of a context where RJ has been theorised as being useful in is in bullying within schools. Bullying has a negative impact on the school community as a whole, children who are bullied do not always overcome the traumas of it and bullies themselves often come from dysfunctional homes with negative role models that they reproduce5. Therefore, bullying is a problem that not only has negative repercussions for the individuals involved, but also for the whole community overall. This is where restorative justice can come in. In the case of two Year Nine students at Passmores Academy, restorative justice led to them going from having a “love-hate relationship” to having “their arms around each other crying”, as they shouted at their dads who were about to have a fight6; restorative justice helped them make amends and move forward, even if their dads did not feel the same way.
On the other hand, restorative justice does not always work as intended. There are three key challenges to properly implementing restorative justice in bullying: the first involves convincing the victim that this is the right thing as otherwise they will feel that the bully’s actions are being justified, and the second is that teachers involved need to keep their feelings to themselves as not being impartial could exacerbate the issue7. Restorative justice is a delicate process that can easily be upset by biases towards either given party. Furthermore, in the Passmore Academy case, the fathers evidently felt the issue was not completely resolved, which shows how even when restorative justice seems to have gone well some of us may still not feel ready to move forward after it.
My final thoughts
Is there something that can be learned from restorative justice and the process of moving on? I believe there is, and I have illustrated this by looking at bullying as an example. Four factors that contribute to bullying include negative attitudes towards the child being bullied by carers, enabling attitudes towards aggressiveness, bullies experiencing authoritarian parenting styles, and them having natural tendencies towards being arrogant8, and restorative justice can bring all these issues to light. However, we should still remember that it is a delicate process, and any unfair biases towards any of the given parties will render it significantly less effective. If it is to be used in these cases, it should be ensured that the mediators have no bias towards either the bully or the victim.
And if you feel convinced by Restorative Justice as an alternative, then why not join RJ4All as a volunteer or as paid Associate? You can not only learn more about what is going on in the world of Restorative Justice but also contribute to a cause that will hopefully allow more people to move forward from the past. And if you want to read more about how positive psychology can improve restorative practices, then take a look at RJ4All’s project on Positive Psychology and Restorative Justice to learn more about this.
Aidan Chase-McCarthy is an intern at Restorative Justice for All (RJ4All).
To join RJ4All or to support its cause including volunteers such as Aidan click here
1 – Folkman, S., Moskowitz, J. T., 2000. “Positive affect and the other side of coping”. American Psychologist, 55 (6): 647-654.
2 – Adams, R. E., Santo, J. S., Bukowski, W. M., 2011. The Presence of a Best Friend Buffers the Effects of Negative Experiences. Psychology Faculty Publications, 47 (6): 1786-1791. Available at: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/psychfacpub/37/?utm_source=digitalcommons.unomaha.edu%2Fpsychfacpub%2F37&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages
3 – Gutner, C. A, Rizvi, S. L., Monson, C. M., Resick, P. A., 2006. Changes in Coping Strategies, Relationship to the Perpetrator, and Posttraumatic Distress in Female Crime Victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 19 (6), p. 7. doi:10.1002/jts.20158.
4 – Condon, M., 2010. “Bruise of a Different Color: The Possibilities of Restorative Justice for Minority Victims of Domestic Violence”. Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy, 17 (3), p. 495.
5 – Grossi, P. K., Mendes dos Santos, A., 2012. “Bulling in Brazilian Schools and Restorative Practices”. Canadian Journal of Education, 35 (1): 120-136.
6 – Goddard, V., 2012. “Vic Goddard: bullying, restorative justice and teenage girls”. The Guardian. November 13th. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/nov/13/bullying-school-restorative-justice-teeenage.
7 – Smith, R., 2016. “IS RESTORATIVE JUSTICE THE RIGHT APPROACH TO BULLYING?” The Educator. November 17th. Available at: https://www.theeducator.com/blog/restorative-justice-right-approach-bullying/.