My childhood friend Vickie Pynchon, an attorney and mediator, has written a piece about restorative justice. "I'm asked about restorative justice from time to time," Pynchon says. "It's all about accountability, amends and reconciliation. Powerful stuff. Take a look." Thus, here is a fascinating, heady piece about just that. It seems only fitting during this holiday season to talk about amends and reconciliation.
by Victoria Pynchon
Braithwaite suggests that labeling criminal offenders as such "will actually reduce crime when the labeling is respectful and focused on the act rather than the person and where disapproval is terminated by ceremonies of forgiveness and apology." Others contend that labeling is inherently stigmatizing and likely to increase recidivism.
In criminal restorative justice circles, the beneficial affects of reintegrative shame are meant to be accomplished by a restorative justice conference or victim-offender mediation (hereinafter called VOMs). These VOMs bring together victims and their loved ones; offenders and their friends and family; and, caring members of the community for the purpose of discussing the consequences of the crime and what can be done to set it right. Guided by a restorative justice mediator, the parties are meant to engage in a process of respectful dialogue, resulting in the expression of accountability, remorse and apology by the offender; and forgiveness by the victim leading to the participants' entry into a restitution agreement.
Restorative justice theorists and practitioners assert that censuring the offender's criminal behavior and its deleterious effect on the victim without stigmatizing him will engender empathy for the victim and accountability in the offender, thus reducing recidivism. Whether participation in a single VOM can accomplish such far-reaching goals has been the subject of much debate in restorative justice circles. A thorough understanding of the origins and effects of shame by restorative justice theorists and practitioners--together with shame-reducing practices and post-offender shame-reduction recovery programs--are absolutely necessary if restorative justice is to achieve its rehabilitative goals.
The challenge of restorative justice is the same as the daily challenge of being human in community with others. If we invite offenders to assist their brethren when they step up to the restorative-justice plate, they will give their fellows courage, strength and heart.
Because our earliest experiences of helplessness relate to our size, strength and intelligence, only anger and its explosive cousin, rage, allow us to prove to ourselves and others that we are powerful instead of weak, competent rather than stupid, large rather than small. Thus do many shame-suffused individuals respond to chronic shame in an attack mode, particularly those who feel endangered by the depths to which their self-esteem has been reduced. Such individuals experience shame as a threat to their physical well-being and lack the ability to trust and rely upon others.
The distinction between guilt and shame in moral development is not a trifling matter of purely semantic interest. Guilt arouses emotional discomfort in response to our transgressions against others. By age 2 children develop the ability to empathize with the feelings of another and by age 3 to evaluate their own conduct against objective behavioral standards. As soon as we are able to experience shame and guilt, we instinctively attempt to regulate our emotional state by engaging in spontaneous acts of confession and reparation. It is guilt, therefore, not shame, that discourages us from engaging in wrongdoing.