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10 ways to live restoratively

by Adam Bray on December 14, 2009

(Dr. Howard Zehr is professor of Restorative Justice at Eastern Mennonite University’s graduate Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and is the editor of The Little Books of Justice and Peacemaking series.  He wrote this reflection on his blog, Restorative Justice Blog, on Nov. 27th, 2009.   Restorative Justice focuses on repairing the harm caused by and revealed by crime and wrongdoing.)

10 ways to live restoratively


  1. Take relationships seriously, envisioning yourself in an interconnected web of people, institutions and the environment.
  2. Try to be aware of the impact – potential as well as actual – of your actions on others and the environment.
  3. When your actions negatively impact others, take responsibility by acknowledging and seeking to repair the harm – even when you could probably get away with avoiding or denying it.  (To craft a letter of apology, see the Apology Letter website developed by Loreen Walker and Ben Furman.)
  4. Treat everyone respectfully, even those you don’t expect to encounter again, even those you feel don’t deserve it, even those who have harmed or offended you or others.
  5. Involve those affected by a decision, as much as possible, in the decision-making process.
  6. View the conflicts and harms in your life as opportunities.
  7. Listen, deeply and compassionately, to others, seeking to understand even if you don’t agree with them. (Think about who you want to be in the latter situation rather than just being right.)
  8. Engage in dialogue with others, even when what is being said is difficult, remaining open to learning from them and the encounter.
  9. Be cautious about imposing your “truths” and views on other people and situations.
  10. Sensitively confront everyday injustices including sexism, racism and classism.

I would welcome additional suggestions as well as comments on these ten.

The chart below explores some implications of five key restorative justice principles for criminal justice and for restorative living.

Restorative Justice Principles adapted by Catherine Bargen (2008) from Susan Sharpe, Restorative Justice: A Vision for Healing and Change. Thanks to Catherine for her suggestions on the above as well.

Principle of Restorative Justice Application for Criminal Justice Application for Restorative Living
Invite full participation and consensus. Victims, offenders and the community have a voice in responding to criminal harm, with as much agreement as possible in what the outcome should look like. All those who feel they have a stake in a situation of harm or conflict can be invited to participate in dialogue around the issues and have a voice in the outcomes or decisions made. Power imbalances are noted and addressed as much as possible to achieve consensus.
Heal what has been broken. When a crime is committed, the need for healing inevitably arises.This may take the form of emotional healing (for victims, and for offenders), relationship healing, and/or reparation of property damage. Our everyday interactions and situations can result in hurtful words and actions, which may create feelings of injustice or imbalance in our relationships. As much as possible, the restorative approach seeks to bring those hurts to light and create space for healing and reparation.
Seek full and direct accountability. Offenders need to take responsibility for their own actions and choices.They are given the opportunity to explain their behaviour and fulfill the obligations created from their behaviour directly to the people they have harmed. When harm occurs, we can nurture an environment where we are encouraged to take ownership for our own role in hurtful behaviour or abuses of power.Living restoratively means respectfully expecting oneself and others to be accountable for our actions in ways that are fair and reasonable.
Reunite what has been divided. Victims of crime often experience a sense of isolation from the community, as do offenders. While the reasons for this isolation may differ between these two groups, processes that allow for reintegration need to be sought in the wake of a crime for all that have been affected.Such processes can create a renewed sense of wholeness and closure, as well as a sense of reintegration into the community. Hurtful or damaging behaviour in our places of interaction can create feelings of isolation and of being an outcast. It can result in individuals taking sides and developing an “us”/ ”them” mentality. As much as possible, restorative living aims to take stock of where divisions have occurred in our communities and work toward balance, understanding and reconciliation.
Strengthen the community to prevent future harms. A justice process that is restorative will focus not only on the details of the crime at hand, but what the systemic causes of crime are in the community and how they can be addressed. In this way, a healthier and safer community is created for all, not just those wanting to be protected from crime. Most communities can ultimately use situations of harm to learn, grow and change where necessary. When living restoratively, we can help illuminate systemic injustice and power imbalances. We then advocate for positive changes in order to make the community a healthier and more just place for all.

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