Trust Me On This!

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New Blog from the reSolutionaries Team

Why should you?  What makes you believe I’m going to treat you with respect when we sit in a circle and your principal and your mom and your neighbor and your best friend are there?  What makes me believe you will make dinner for your family the next five Friday nights as a way of paying them back for the time they spent meeting with your teacher when you threw a chair in class?

Restorative justice practices are built on a foundation of trust.  As facilitators, we open a circle by asking participants to speak their truth and speak from the heart.  We ask everyone to listen, trying hard to understand how the speaker sees the situation.  We assure everyone that we will hold a safe container for their participation.  Do we have any idea how much we are asking of people who may have just met us?

At the end of many restorative processes, an agreement is made.  It may be an agreement to repair harm, an agreement to attend school, or an agreement to take down a negative Facebook post.  Participants are asked to trust that the agreement will be completed.  What allows a person to place trust in another?

Beverly states simply, “Trust is being good to your word.”  In the example above, participants in a circle will be watching the facilitators closely.  Are they upholding the ground rules?  Are they using respectful communication, both verbal and non-verbal, with everyone in the circle?  If participants experience the facilitators being good to their word, they will likewise be inspired to make commitments they can keep, and motivated to be good to their word.

I am learning from the book Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey about obstacles to both organizational and personal change.  Trust can be a barrier in organizations, and the authors have identified four elements that generate trust:

  • Respect for the importance of the other person’s role in producing high-quality outcomes

  • Belief in the other’s ability (competence) and willingness to fulfill his or her formal role responsibilities

  • Care about the other professionally and personally

  • Consistency between what people say and what they do

Applying these elements to the restorative circle mentioned above reveals the depth of expectations we hold for every participant.  Often a diverse group of people who may never have met is brought together in a circle. We then expect each person to believe that each of the other participants – students, parents, community members, facilitators – has a key role in producing a high-quality outcome, that they are indeed capable of fulfilling the role for which they were included in the circle.

We intend that, by meeting face to face, participants will come into relationship with one another, and care for the others will emerge as a key lubricant to the process.  Finally, with these elements in place, an agreement will be reached, and everyone signs in faith that the items can be completed by the involved parties.  That is often a leap of faith for people who came into the room angry or firmly rooted in their positions.

Yet I have seen it happen again and again, as have many practitioners of restorative justice.  In fact, it is that very transformation, that consummation of trust, that keeps us coming back for more and is fueling a growing movement of restorative practices in schools and communities.

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