restorative practices and compassion

I’ve been thinking for awhile that the restorative practices movement (sometimes called restorative justice, though I think the former has become a more inclusive term) is one of the most progressive and amazing things going on out there. Those who work in the field rightly point to all sorts of problematic aspects with the retributive system we have and more generally the impulse to punish. And they demonstrate all kinds of real benefits to the restorative approach.

There’s a lot to say about this. For now I only want to mention one connection that doesn’t seem to get talked about enough. And this is that from the standpoint of radical interdependence, the understanding that every thought, word, deed, phenomenon comes out of an ultimately illimitable mesh of “causes and conditions,” ie that such a mesh is inescapably coextensive with the mesh that is the universe itself, no other basic approach to reparation or justice can be considered truly compassionate.

When we stop condemning/scapegoating some people as simply “Bad”/”Evil” because just that much too much of everything they have ever experienced of their lives has led in certain harmful directions, we are left with the far more difficult task of trying to see those paths more clearly. And that, surely, is the beginning of compassion itself: stepping into the other person’s shoes.

Which, of course, can be extremely hard to do because it dissolves the barriers between “good me” and “bad them.” It forces us to see that, if we were that other person … we would be that other person. That’s a tautology only on the surface. Our “goodness” really does depend on someone else’s “badness.” Both are products of far too many conditions to even begin to hold in our heads at once. A retributive attitude, however understandable in certain circumstances, ultimately doesn’t make sense. I don’t think that in the end we have much of a choice but to keep moving, inch by step by leap, in the direction of love. Into an ever more expansive empathy.

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