ON LIFE, and CONSCIOUSNESS Taking a Sideways Step in my Discussion of Spirituality

The other day I started a discussion on what I mean when I speak about spirituality. But I ran out of words to describe what I was trying to say, and I ending up tripping over my own keyboard. So I stopped writing, and promised to take up the task I had set myself when I could find better words.

In the meantime I received a comment from a reader that made it clear I was even more confused, and confusing, than even I had thought. That reader thought that consciousness might be a better word for what I was trying to describe, and my mind immediately rejected that suggestion. On one level, when I try to define a term or word to help others understand what it is I am talking about, I really don’t like to have someone else try to change my definition. But that is just my ego talking, and I apologize if that feeling came through in my answer. I tried to hide it, or at least tone it down, but I have no idea if I succeeded or not. I can only read my own words in the way I intended them, and I know in my lifetime I have peed a lot of people off completely unintentionally by failing to make myself clear. So, I am sorry if that happened.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I cannot be content in trying to define my usage of the word spirituality. I cannot write that definition without defining the word life, which I usually capitalize to look like Life. This for me is a very special difference, and I will try to explain why. When I hear most people use the word life, it is a very general term that can mean a variety of things, from the state of being alive to the time, or any part of the time, a person or other living being exists between birth and death. It is really a throwaway word, a word that can be replaced by many others, at least as far as the English language is concern. Life is a bed of roses. Life is for learning. I wasted my life. Even It’s a Wonderful Life. But very seldom do I hear such usage as Life is what really makes this world go around.

I have actually spoken those words to many people during my lifetime, Love does not make the world go around, Life does. But no one accepts my theory. Love is the greatest feeling in life, they try to tell me. But those feelings are ephemeral, I hate to have to say. Love cannot survive death, no matter how much one might want it to. Once a living being dies, all feeling ceases. The feelings of beings still alive can continue, I will not argue that. But the actual feelings of the deceased being stop, dead! Love stops, even life stops, but Life goes on.

Now, when I just used the word Life, I used it on more than one level, but all all those levels I am giving Life have one thing in common, they predate birth, and they continue after death. First, on the macro level, while individual life starts and ends, the actual state of Living never ends, the universe can only exist as long as there is Life to exist in it, even if that life is unaware a universe even exists. Does the universe exist if there is no Life in it? Does it matter? If there is NO LIFE there is no one to perceive a universe, ergo there is no universe. But that is just Life on the most macro level discernable to intelligence. And it does take intelligence of some kind to be able to perceive or even conceive of a universe.

But Life is what happens on an individual basis as well, again, inside our universe. The Hindus and later Buddhists were the first to truly believe in reincarnation, as far as we humans know. I cannot tell you what came before, but they (Hindus and later Buddhists) saw something in Life that told them life on Earth was not all that Life could be. Life was something superior to physical existence, superior to even the universe. For them, Life was not just a state of being, Life was BeingLife on this level is not something that can be sensed by any of the five senses, yet it can be sensed in the very state of being aliveLife is something that is to be lived, loved and respected. Yet Life on that level is taken for granted, ignored, and disrespected. Many people even hate Life, though mostly with good reason. Something has happened (read my previous blog, A WORK OF FICTION, for an example) to disconnect them from the world around them. Nothing they do seems to help them, and they become crushed by many and various forces, until they see suicide as the only relief. Life for them has become meaningless.

Others live Life without ever realizing they are truly alive. They are born, they grow, and eventually they die–without ever doing anything truly meaningful. They might want to do something meaningful, but they are not taught how to do that. If ever they realize that doing something meaningful cannot be taught, that it is something that you cause yourself to do, then they will start to truly live. Something like helping someone you do not know or are not expected to help, or by changing your own or someone else’s life. Or by advancing your own being, working to evolve your mind, or working to increase your consciouness.

Ah, there it is, that word that exists in the title of this blog, and in the comment that inspired it. In its purest form, in my mind, and for me, consciousness is the ability to be aware of thinking and to realize what the products of thinking (thoughts and ideas) can be and/or do. Everyone thinks (as far as I know), and probably does it in the same way. It is, again, as far as I know, impossible to actually say what the mechanics of thinking are.

But thinking is only one level of consciousness. What you are conscious of, how deep you drive your consciousness to go (or actually how high you drive it to go), and how connected you are to the consciousness of those around you, all those are levels of consciousness too. But they are still not the only ones.

Understanding, and the wisdom that comes with understanding, those are the most important levels of consciousness a living being can aspire to. Some people’s consciousness centers around their own lives, while others center around the lives of those they know or share a common community with. Still others are aware of what is happening in their own nation. For others it is the human race. But lets go higher. Consciousness can be of the Earth, and all the living beings on it. And consciousness can be of the universe, and any living beings that might be in it. And that is where most people stop, if they ever get that high. But what can be higher than the universe? By its very nature the universe is the biggest construct possible, the infinity of space. But where the universe fills an entire dimension, it is only one dimension, one plane of existence. There are more, that I can tell you. I don’t know what they are, I don’t know where they are, but I am conscious of them being somewhere, and I am conscious of the life that exists there. It isn’t peopled by beings like us, or like any other beings in our universe. There are no descriptors in any Earthly language to define what those living beings are. We can use words like energy, ether, or even anti-matter, but what do those words mean? Truly we do not know, nor can we really know. But that does not mean we are not connected to them, mainly because we together make up that condition we call Life. And all we need to do to be conscious of them is to raise our consciousnesses until we discover they are there.

I said earlier, I believe, that consciousness is not spirituality. Just because a being can be conscious of Life on other planes or other dimensions, it does not automatically mean they will feel connected to that Life. It is actually the nature of the living beings we call human to want to destroy or use every other form of life or Life we encounter. As a species we need to feel that we are the best there is, the top of the food chain, the gods of all other Earthly species. And we fear any alien Life that we might encounter, because we might not be superior to them. And we will not be superior to them, not if they can come to us.

But all those feelings, the need to be superior, the fear of not being the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder, disappear when you allow your consciousness to rise to the level of global, universal, or dimensional levels. Life is Life is LIFE! It is all one and the same, no matter where on the journey that is LIFE one might find oneself. The trick to Life is, the more you understand, the more you are conscious of, and the more you are conscious of, the more you accept to be, and the more you connect with what is. And, the more you connect with what is, the more you Live! Life is Spirituality, and that is where I hope I can safely leave you for now.

And I thank you if you have gotten this far in this blog. It is not an easy read, I know, so much of it flies in the face of modern convention, but yet it really is very simple. If you can feel the connection, you can know what life is all about.

 

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A WORK OF FICTION remembering the lost and lonely on this day of days

I’m sitting here this Xmas morning, all alone in my apartment, wondering why I am even alive. Last night was Xmas eve, and I was alone then too, with too much time on my hands to do nothing but think.  Sometimes thinking is not a good thing. I mean, I tried to talk to others instead of to myself, but everyone was  so busy with others they had no time for me. My brother Aramis thinks he is too good for me. He is a lawyer, and I am a junkie. Yes, a junkie! But I never chose to be a junkie, like he chose to be a lawyer. Or my sister Arabica, the one with all the brains in the family.  Dad put both of them through college. Where did he put me? Yeah, you got it, into rehab. And probably cost him just as much too, if I know him. “Nothing but the best for my son.” Sure, where was all his goddamned money when I needed it? Being shoved up his nose in his secret office behind the office where he saw his patients. Little did they know…

And Mom, my loving mother, drunk by 3:00 every afternoon, what did she expect, giving me little “baby shooters” when I was barely five years old. She had me in pre-school for the mornings so she didn’t have to deal with me, then put me to sleep all afternoon with her “nap time” aids. “Your father doesn’t like it when I drink alone,” she used to say…

Friends? I wasn’t allowed to have any. They would just try to steal my money. My money?  THEIR MONEY! That was all they ever worried about. Their money, and their planned kids. Aramis and Arabica were planned kids! Born 15 years before me. I was the unplanned, kid,  the accident, the afterthought.  So what did they name me? Xander! They didn’t even give me the “Ale” beginning, though Mom filled me with lots of it later on. No, my name coulfn’t start with an “A” like the planned kids. “X” meant I was wrong. “X” meant I was crossed out, eradicated,  unwanted,  unloved…

Oh, I wasn’t supposed to complain,  you know, they gave me everything I could possibly want. Money was no object. Toys. Game boys.  X-boxes for Xander!  Wrong-boxes for the wrong-kid. They thought they were being so cute, so coy. Well, fuck ’em. I’m glad their both dead now…

But I’m still here, still living the life they gave me, the life of an addict.  While they were still alive I used to put an exclamation point behind that word.  Addict!  At least it started with an “A”! Like Aramis! Like Arabica! Addict! Addict!  Addict!

And I don’t even have a fix for Xmas.  I haven’t shot up for days now. The shit on the street is laced with Fentynal. It’s killing people. But nobody cares. Why should anyone care.  We’re just junkies. We’re not worthy. Might as well all kill ourselves, nobody cares.  Not anymore…

Killing myself. I wish it was an option.

Why isn’t it an option.? Cuz I still got a couple more million to spend on shit, if I could find any safe enough to not kill me. I’d move to Amsterdam, or Zurich, or somewhere I could get safe shit, if only I could use my inheritance to get there. But I can’t, cuz Mommy Dearest and Daddy Dearest set up a trust fund that pays for this apartment without me having to see a penny. They have it stocked with food, and alcohol, to keep me healthy but stoned, one way or another. And every day a letter arrives in the mail with just enough cash to score a hit. How the he’ll does my trustee even know how much to send? But she does. She is hip to the daily price of shit on the street. And that’s what she sends me. No less! No more…

No more life… What would that be like? Could I live with being dead? I don’t think so. There would be no shit running through my veins. How could I live without shit? I don’t think I could…

Death? Who would miss me? Not Aramiss. Not Arabica. Not the trustee, that’s for sure. Maybe my supplier,  maybe he might miss me. But I doubt it. He has enough junkies on his tail to keep him stocked for a long long time. ..

Death? You know it’s sounding better all the time. Xmas. Death. Xmas. Death. The ultimate Xmas gift. Death.

Xmas. Wrongmas. Sure as he’ll isn’t righmas!  There’s no rightmas about wrongmas.  There’s no +mas about xmas. Not for me. It’s not for me. There’s nothing for me.

Nothing but shit! If only I could find some safe shit…

Spirituality: What It Is — To Me

I written a lot about spirituality, but on this blog, at least, I don’t believe I have ever truly defined what it is I am talking about. (I’m too lazy to look back at all my blogs to see if I did, because even if I have, the definition or explanation I have for spirituality today is probably not quite the same definition I had back then.) It is an ever-evolving definition that shifts–not changes, but moves somehow forward in my mind–and hopefully will until I pass on to my next incarnation, whenever or wherever that might be.

So when I talk and write about spirituality, what exactly is it that I am speaking about? (Why the I’s in italics? I would like you, the reader, to understand that I am not going to try to define spirituality for anyone else, I have no sure idea of what they, or even you, believe spirituality to be. The only person I can speak for is me. And the following words are what I believe–at this exact minute of my life…) Spirituality is the feeling of connection, caused by being alive, with any and all living beings. In my belief system, EVERY living being has a spirit. It doesn’t matter if the living being is so tiny it can barely be seen under a microscope, or whether it is so large that it cannot be seen to be alive using human understanding. It does not matter if it moves, like an animal, or stays in one place, like a plant. It does not matter if it has what humans understand to be a brain, or if it seems to just blunder along chaotically like a virus or an amoeba. Nothing matters, other than the fact it comes into being, grows and changes all on its own, and eventually dies, even if humans don’t think that is what is happening.

But even then, there are other conditions that can be spiritual without being alive; conditions such as beauty, or peacefulness. Sometimes, when humans see beauty, they just stop everything they are doing to look at the beauty, not just with their eyes, but with their minds, and their spirits. It can also happen when we encounter a space that just seems so peaceful that again we stop, and just allow all the stresses we are constantly feeling to drain out of us. What is it that makes us do that? Beauty and peace are not living things, they are completely intangible, often untouchable. What appears to be happening is we are connecting with whatever is making us able to see the beauty or feel the peace. We, human beings, can be very sensitive to such things, even if we are the only ones seeing that beauty or feeling that peace. This kind of spiritual connection is even better if we are sharing it with someone who sees or feels the same as we do, but doing those things alone are just as spiritual as doing them in concert with one or more others. So, while I am speaking about spirituality, while I mostly mean a connection with other living beings, I do also mean connecting to intangibles.

Now, you might think that I should be defining spirituality as “connection,” in and of itself, but I cannot say this. In my mind, and in my spirit, there needs to be a positive aspect to a spiritual connection, something that raises or uplifts our spirits in some way, even though the situation might not be uplifting in or of itself. Getting caught in an earthquake comes to mind, but this is just an example of what I mean, the situation does not have to be such an extreme one: A person can get caught in an earthquake, lying injured on the ground, suffering pain from broken bones or torn ligaments or pierced skin, or from internal injuries they cannot define as they are lying there helpless. And suddenly they feel their hand being touched, or even just hear a voice nearby asking if they are okay, if they need help. Or they can see someone administering help or comfort to another victim as helpless as they are. At such a time they can be overcome by what they are witnessing, or what is happening to them. They see or otherwise experience someone trying to help others, and they want to cry out “Thank you for trying,” or some such phrase. That is definitely a positive experience, a spiritual experience.

But let us look at the same situation, and instead of seeing someone helping others, or helping them, they see someone robbing or looting, caring only about themselves or possibly their families, but nonetheless not helping others, but helping only themselves. This is not a positive situation, and there is no spirituality involved, no uplifting connection to this selfish person. There is a connection, definitely, the one person’s feeling is being affected by another person’s actions, but the feelings are all negative. This is why I cannot say that spirituality is connection. I believe all things and feelings spiritual must have that positive aspect to them.

Another thing I am not talking about is religion. I will not deny most religious experiences can involve a spiritual connection, but not all things religious are spiritual. Thinking about the need for a positive or uplifting aspect to be spiritual, is there anything positive about one religious group trying to commit genocide on another religious group? Is there anything positive about white hooded “Christian” people burning down a Catholic church, or a Jewish synagogue, or a Muslim temple? Or a group of Muslim faithful attacking a Sikh enclave? Without being biased against any religion, because every religion has such skeletons hiding away in their closets, negative acts prevent some religious situations from being spiritual. There are many spiritual feelings involved in any religion, but unfortunately there are as many non-spiritual feelings that cause harm in some way to non-believers or “different-believers” to cause me to make the statement Religion and Spirituality are not synonymous or equal to each other.

Spirituality, of course, comes from the root word “spirit.” This is not spirit, as in ghost or soul or anything like that. “Spirit is Life.” Spirit is what drives a living being to go on living as long as it can. Spirit is what drives a member of a species to propagate that species. And, one more thing, spirit is what drives a living being to improve itself and/or its species and thus all species to improve so as to keep on living. I cannot tell you who first wrote these prime directives of life, I highly doubt that it was me. But while I cannot give that person literary credit, I can thank him or her (from here or in I will use the plural pronouns they, them, their, etc. when I am talking about a person who has or needs no gender identity. Gender is not consequential to this or most discussions.) for seeing that these directives apply to all living beings. (The last directive, to improve, is not always apparent, but life is such that in order to survive, there must be some change, no matter how big or small, to help the individual, or species, or even Life itself, to continue.

[The above are not really directives in the truest sense of the word, no one gave life orders to do these things. But they are a priori conditions we can see in all living things. They are the conditions that we see when we look at what we call evolution. The funny thing is, the same conditions apply when we look at spirituality. You may have never thought of this, but if you look at history, you will see that spirituality is also evolving (what I openly call spiritual evolution). The easiest way to recognize this is to read The Source by James A. Michener. This book was one of select pieces of artwork I encountered in a time when I was going through spiritual changes, and it helped me understand the history of theism, and why I was so dissatisfied with it. (Another was a song by Eric Burdon and the New Animals entitled New York 1963, America 1968, but that is already on a different blog.)]

At this point I am going to have to cut this discussion short for now. I will tell you honestly that while I know what it is I want to say, I am having trouble expressing myself clearly and  properly. I have tried many times to write the next paragraph, but I am realizing I am only going off on various tangents. And while I love tangents, because they allow you the reader to get glimpses inside my being, I don’t think they will be useful to this discussion. So, maybe, if you haven’t already read The Source, try giving it a read if you can still find a copy. And maybe, by the time you finish it, I will have realized how to say what it is I want to say. My apologies to everyone for not being able to finish this discussion at this time…

LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE And Ignoring the Samsaric Bullshit

There are a million and one things happening in today’s world all challenging the desire to live a decent and spiritual life, not the least of which is the Damned Trumpeter who is trying to distract the USofA from any kind of decency in life, so let’s just agree to ignore him for awhile.

 

This is hopefully not going to take up much of your time, but because all that samsaric distraction is even keeping me from living a spiritual life, I figure it must be keeping a lot of other people besides me from doing so. But, what is really the important thing in life, Donald Trump, or your spirit?

 

My answer to that question is my spirit. That for me is the most important part of me, and my life. It is so easy to get distracted, but that is why I feel a real effort has to be made to keep ourselves centered in the reality that is life. Samsara, the world in front of the veil of death, is only as temporary as are our physical lives. (Even my bladder tried to distract me just now from the task at hand, but I did not let even that unfocus my line of thought!) Our spirits are forever, as far as we can understand forever, and they require our focus now more than ever before. And that, I think, is what the little cell that danced was trying to remind me, The spirit inside that cell has been here forever, and will continue forward until forever is no more. Samsara–Begone!

 

I need to “keep my eyes on the prize” and stop allowing myself to be distracted. And I hope you will try that too. No matter how hard that might be.

 

When it comes right down to it, no matter what is happening in the world, the only thing we have any chance of controlling is what goes on inside our own bodies, and particularly what goes on in our own minds and spirits. So, for the 500th time in my life, I am rededicating my life to my spirit. If I am truly going to pass on to the next plane, as I am told I will be doing, I need to stay prepared. And if those people who have told me that are wrong, I need to keep preparing myself for the time when that does come to pass.

 

Life, that condition that keeps us from ceasing to exist on any and every plane, needs to be coddled to continue advancing onward and upward. Understanding life, despite what all the pundits say, is not only possible, but doable. But going backward, or “devolving,” is a constant concern, a threat to the advancement of life itself. Taking 50 steps backward in order to advance 1 step forward is the norm, but does not have to be. We, each and every living being, is in charge of their own spiritual lives, not to mention in charge of the life of every cell in our bodies. Let’s all learn to keep every life, no matter how small or large, alive.

Re-Writing the Golden Rule

And I said I wasn’t insane! Well, I’m certainly unsane (or not sane by the standards of the society I live in, but sane by the standards I myself live by). And yes, I believe I can re-write the Golden Rule, because the present one gives too much leeway to what one person can do to another. Let’s look. In 2001 a group of interdisciplinary faith leaders came together and created a poster stating and restating the Golden Rule as 13 disciplines believed it should read. Western philosophies and religions had various version of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ten out of thirteen direct their rule almost directly at human beings. Three, therefore, acknowledge that not all living things are human. Seven state their rule as a positive, as in Do unto others; six state it as a negative as in Do not do. Four talk about not inflicting pain or hurt on others, most state something about what you would do, or not have done, for yourself. But none of them, in my opinion, not one of them, get into the mind or the thought processes of the doer–don’t do what you would not want done to yourself is as close as it gets.

Now try my way: Do unto others only that which you would be willing to have done unto you. This, in my opinion, is a lot more restrictive. This talks about having to think something out before you can decide what to do, or not do. This statement, or direction, makes it mandatory that you consider how you would feel if someone was doing something to you, then reverse it to know where to draw the line on what you would be willing to do to others. My statement carries the implied consequence that whatever you do to someone else, anyone else can do that same thing to you, and should you not like or enjoy having that thing done, then you should never have done that thing to anyone else in the first place. In other words, you, and only you, are responsible for what you cause to happen to others, and therefore what others can cause to have happen to you.

Am I splitting hairs, maybe, but I am certainly not splitting hares. I am not going to slice up anyone or anything because I am not about to give anyone permission to do that to me. Sure, this doesn’t prevent some sadist from slicing me up, not everyone lives by the golden rule however it is stated. Psychopaths and sociopaths are unable to comprehend anything such as a golden rule. People who are hellbent on terror don’t care what they do to others, even if they don’t have a pathology that cannot stop them from willy-nilly wreaking havoc on others. But the thing is, for the most part, the majority of humans would not want to act aggressively or hurtfully towards others.

So why is there so much violence in the world today? Why is there so much sexual aggression, so much physical abuse? I believe we can take most of that violence and lay it at the foot of parents who mistreat their children, who don’t believe that children don’t deserve to be abused in ANY fashion at all. If you don’t beat it into a child, they’ll never learn it. That was what my father believed, and that is why I hated him. Not loved, I had no reason to thank him for anything but his genes. They made me who I am today, a survivor. The only positive effect he had on me was teaching me how not to treat others. And that was actually a conscious decision on my part. I could have carried on the cycle, if I had children, but that cycle ends with me. I don’t want to ever have anyone treat me that way again. It isn’t easy to abide by that decision, it takes two to allow it to be kept, but I think I can count on my fingers (and maybe a few toes) how many times I have forgotten to treat people or others with respect and kindness. (See LIVING A DECENT LIFE, an earlier blog.)

The only thing hat I dislike about any version of the Golden Rule is making it a rule in itself. I don’t believe anyone should take authority over anyone else. No one should be able to tell anyone how to live, or how to act. Role-model a rule, plaster it on a poster, I don’t really care. But forcing it on anyone means that anything can be forced upon me. I won’t willingly let that happen. I am the only one who can make rules for me, but my responsibility is to make sure my rules do not interfere with anyone or anything else. That is what my Golden Rule means to me.

As hippies, in the 1960s, most of us lived by this rule: Be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do, AS LONG AS YOU DON’T HURT ANYONE. That worked well for us, but it had little effect on non-hippies. Even though I am trying once again to put my wording of the golden rule into the public consciousness, I’ve actually tried to live with it since I wrote it as an active hippie. Given the state the world is in today, I thought it a good time to try to put it out there once again. I hope you will agree with me…

THE LITTLE CELL THAT COULD: PART 3 of LOOKING FOR A REVELATION

I have spent the last two plus days trying to figure out if I am insane or not. I don’t feel insane, but I can’t know for sure. I have to admit I was semi-disappointed when I came to the revelation that I was not making some big discovery about my past that had been hidden from me for years. That was how I interpreted the feeling that came over me while watching NCIS on the boob tube on Monday last. And that was all I really wanted, to discover something that would explain away how I have chosen to live my life, how my original goal to be some famous scientist making the discovery of a lifetime changed to an all-out search for an understanding of my own spirituality. Not that understanding anyone’s spirituality would not be a great discovery, but most people alive today have no concern about their spirituality. Most believe whatever kind of bullshit they were spoon-fed as children. Some advanced from that, and searched for something more personal, something that connected them to others. Something inside them, but generally still something they were told about, or read in a book. Neither of those options were good enough for me. I had to explore every synapse of my mind to try to discovery a reality that explained the whole universe in one word. That word was rawgod.

Or, at least, so I thought. At that point in my life I still believed there was some kind of arrow that pointed the way to Truth. But the more I searched, the more I explored my own mind, the more I concluded there was no such arrow. There is no evidence for it, anywhere. Sure, if that was what you wanted, you could alter the facts to suit the belief, say that god works in mysterious ways to explain why a child contracts a deadly disease, why a stray bullet hits an innocent child, killing them instantly. Or even why a senior person decides to commit suicide by slow starvation. My first motivation was the injury or death of children, because they had their whole lives ahead of them. Because at that point I still had my whole life ahead of me.

I no longer have my whole life ahead of me. I am that senior person now, and the majority of my life is behind me. But that does not mean the greatest part of my life is behind me. I think the greatest part is still ahead of me. And I sure as hell hope I am not insane, because then I might never find out what that greatest part was going to be. I want to be here when it happens, and that little cell, or actually the spirit in that little cell, is going to help me get there.

 

It doesn’t matter how small a spirit is, or how large it might be. It doesn’t matter how young that spirit is, or how old it is. The fact is: it is a spirit whole and complete unto itself, yet still connected through life to every other living spirit there is or will ever be. Why am I saying this, what is leading me to draw this conclusion. To explain that, I first have to say that I spent the last two day plus days denying that the spirit of the cell that attracted my attention could be what I felt it was, and is. The cell basically told me it is the spirit that was in the cell of one of the first one-celled beings that came to life in the original primordial soup that once covered the lifeless earth. There was no life, and then there was life. Did it start with one-cell replicating, or did it start as Dr. Richard Dawson theorizes as a group of crystalline cells yearning to stop the cycle of formation followed by dissolution? I don’t think that really matters, nor can it ever be factually known. There was no one there to write the history of the birth of life on Planet Earth.

Yet here, inside me, and therefore presumably inside you, dear reader, is the spirit of a cell that was there at the very beginning. Obviously, the cell itself cannot be here, physical matter cannot last forever. But spiritual matter, whatever that might be, does last forever, and that is what that cell is here to teach me. Science says that some four billion years ago life came into being somehow on this planet. Did it come from another dimension? Did it come from outer space? Did it just appear? Those questions cannot be answered.

But now comes the important question, one I have never heard asked before, but my experience is very very limited in this field: Can there be life without spirit? To the best of my research, life is the spirit, not the physical body. Life started out as one-celled beings, plant, animal, or other having no bearing on anything. From one-celled beings came two-celled beings, then three- or four- or more-celled beings. Today’s humans are believed to have almost 40 trillion cells. Elephants probably have in the quadrillions, whales possibly in the quintillions. But, where it counts, every cell, every single cell, still has its own spirit, and that is what connects us to ourselves, and that is what connects us to each other. And that one cell which I believe is inside my brain that stood up and wanted to be counted, that is the start of the fantastic journey from first-life-on-earth to present-day-life on earth. The physical cells of matter come and go, as far as I can apprehend there is no real continuity there. But spiritual cells, they last forever, and that is what drives life forward. Not some supreme being, nor some pantheon of mediocre beings, nothing rules the universe. Life is what you see it to be. But spirits, they are forever, just not the way we think we see them to be.

So why was this revelation hiding behind my intellect, my IQ, my philosophy of life, and my beliefs? Truly I cannot tell you, but I think it was because humanity has learned to ignore its feelings and look for the intellectually knowable. Proof! Evidence! Research! The Scientific Method! And yet, where do most scientific advances come from? Feelings…

I tried to ignore my feelings on the Little Cell That Could. I questioned my own sanity at having the feelings that came with the rediscovery of that cell/spirit within me. I did everything I could to intellectualize away the feelings I was having. But in the end the feelings won me over. It wouldn’t stop dancing. It wouldn’t stop shouting. It wouldn’t stop… Being!

 

And now I know I am still on track to the greatest time in my life. I’ve still got a ways to go…

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE-The Old Becomes New: An Alternative to Punitive Justice, Especially the Death Penalty

Quoted from Wikipedia, with Commentary by rawgod (Another old blog that has not been previously published here. Part of an old series on Justice in North America, or some such topic.)

Unfortunately, I am not an expert on Restorative Justice (RJ). Being Metis, though, RJ is ingrained in my DNA. Back before Europeans and other peoples came to North America, RJ was the most widespread form of dealing with people who wronged an individual, a group of individuals, or even a whole community, or, as aboriginal people prefer to be called, a nation.  But unlike a European nation, an Aboriginal Nation had no such things as laws, but there were “rules” everyone in the nation was expected to follow. Human Beings, though, no matter where they lived or when, have a tendency to break rules, and laws. European Justice sought to punish a lawbreaker, sometimes to the point of death, but more often by removing them from the community by imprisoning them, or sending them into exile. This form of justice showed no respect for a lawbreaker, and did everything it could to take away a lawbreaker’s dignity. It was an inhumane form of Justice. Aboriginal people, on the other hand, used a form of  “correcting a wrongdoer’s anti-community ways of thinking”:

Restorative justice is an approach to justice that personalizes the crime by having the victims and the offender talk about what is was that was causing the person to act against the nation he was born into. The intent was to mediate a restitution agreement to the satisfaction of each, as well as involving the community. This contrasts to more punitive approaches where the main aim is retributive justice or to satisfy abstract legal principles.

Victims take an active role in the process. Meanwhile, offenders take meaningful responsibility for their actions, taking the opportunity to right their wrongs and redeem themselves, in their own eyes and in the eyes of the community.[1] In addition, the restorative justice approach aims to help the offender to avoid future offenses.

The approach is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offense against an individual or community, rather than the State.[2]

Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender has shown the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability.[3]

Definition[edit]

According to John Braithwaite, restorative justice is:[4]

…a process where all stakeholders affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done to repair the harm. With crime, restorative justice is about the idea that because crime hurts, justice should heal. It follows that conversations with those who have been hurt and with those who have inflicted the harm must be central to the process.

In a restorative justice process, the citizens who have been affected by a crime must take an active role in addressing that crime. Although law professionals may have secondary roles in facilitating the restorative justice process, it is the citizens who must take up the majority of the responsibility in healing the pains caused by crime.[4] The process of restorative justice thus shifts the responsibility for addressing crime.

Dr. Carolyn Boyes-Watson (2014) at Suffolk University’s Center for Restorative Justice defines restorative justice as:

…a growing social movement to institutionalize peaceful approaches to harm, problem-solving and violations of legal and human rights. These range from international peacemaking tribunals such as the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission to innovations within the criminal and juvenile justice systems, schools, social services and communities. Rather than privileging the law, professionals and the state, restorative resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to reestablish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to wrongdoing within our communities. Restorative approaches seek a balanced approach to the needs of the victim, wrongdoer and community through processes that preserve the safety and dignity of all.”[5]

Difference with other approaches[edit]

According to Howard Zehr, restorative justice differs from traditional criminal justice in terms of the guiding questions it asks. In restorative justice, the questions are:

  1. Who has been hurt?
  2. What are their needs?
  3. Whose obligations are these?
  4. What are the causes?
  5. Who has a stake in the situation?
  6. What is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders in an effort to address causes and put things right?[6]

In contrast, traditional criminal justice asks:

  1. What laws have been broken?
  2. Who did it?
  3. What do the offender(s) deserve?[7]

Restorative justice is also different from the adversarial legal process or that of civil litigation.

As Braithwaite writes, “Court-annexed ADR (alternative dispute resolution) and restorative justice could not be philosophically further apart”. While the former seeks to address only legally relevant issues and to protect both parties’ rights, restorative justice aims at “expanding the issues beyond those that are legally relevant, especially into underlying relationships.”[8]

History[edit]

Restorative approaches to crime date back thousands of years.

Following the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 A.D., Retributive justice began to replace such systems. William the Conqueror‘s son, Henry I, detailed offenses against the “king’s peace”. By the end of the 11th century, crime was no longer perceived as injurious to persons, but rather was seen as an offense against the state.[11]

History of the term[edit]

The term “restorative justice” has appeared in written sources since the first half of the nineteenth century.[12]

The term “restorative justice” was likely coined by Albert Eglash in 1977. Eglash distinguished between three approaches to justice:

  1. “retributive justice”, based on punishment;
  2. “distributive justice”, involving therapeutic treatment of offenders;
  3. “restorative justice”, based on restitution with input from victims and offenders.[13]

Contemporary research[edit]

Howard Zehr‘s book Changing Lenses–A New Focus for Crime and Justice, first published in 1990, is credited with being “groundbreaking”,[14] one of the first to articulate a theory of restorative justice.[15] The title of this book refers to providing an alternative framework for thinking about – or new lens for viewing – crime and justice.[16] Changing Lenses juxtaposed a “retributive justice” framework, where crime is viewed as an offense against the state, with a restorative justice framework, where crime is viewed as a violation of people and relationships.[17] The book made reference to the positive results of efforts in the late 1970s and 1980s at victim-offender mediation, pioneered in the United States by Howard Zehr, Ron Claassen and Mark Umbreit.[18]

Howard Zehr

By the second half of the 1990s, the expression “restorative justice” had become popular, evolving to widespread usage by 2006.[19] The restorative justice movement has attracted many segments of society, including “police officers, judges, schoolteachers, politicians, juvenile justice agencies, victim support groups, aboriginal elders, and mums and dads.”[20]

“Restorative justice is a fast-growing state, national and international social movement that seeks to bring together people to address the harm caused by crime,” write Mark Umbreit and Marilyn Peterson Armour. “Restorative justice views violence, community decline, and fear-based responses as indicators of broken relationships. It offers a different response, namely the use of restorative solutions to repair the harm related to conflict, crime, and victimization.”[21]

Influence from indigenous groups[edit]

According to Howard Zehr, “Two peoples have made very specific and profound contributions to practices in the field – the First Nations people of Canada and the U.S., and the Maori of New Zealand… [I]n many ways, restorative justice represents a validation of values and practices that were characteristic of many indigenous groups,” whose traditions were “often discounted and repressed by western colonial powers”.[22] For example, in New Zealand/Aotearoa, prior to European contact, the Maori had a well-developed system called Utu that protected individuals, social stability and the integrity of the group.[23]

Influence from Mennonites[edit]

Several scholars believe it is not a coincidence that Mennonites in North America, like Howard Zehr and Claassen,[18] and the social-action arm of their church-community, Mennonite Central Committee, played major roles in popularizing the theory and practices of restorative justice.[24][25] “[T]he antinomian groups advocating and supporting restorative justice, such as the Mennonites (as well as Amish and Quaker groups), subscribe to principled pacifism and also tend to believe that restorative justice is much more humane than the punitive juvenile and criminal justice systems.”[26]

Recent developments in North America[edit]

In North America, the growth of restorative justice has been facilitated by NGOs dedicated to this approach to justice, such as the Victim Offender Mediation Association, as well as by the establishment of academic centers, such as the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, the University of Minnesota‘s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, the Community Justice Institute at Florida Atlantic University, the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University in California, and the Centre for Restorative Justice at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.[27]

Recent developments in Continental Europe[edit]

The development of RJ in continental Europe, especially the German speaking countries, Austria, Germany and Switzerland, is somewhat different from the Anglo-Saxon experience. For example, victim-offender mediation is just one model of restorative justice but in the present European context the most important one as described in the works of Christa Pelikan and Thomas Trenczek[28][29] Restorative justice is not just a theory, but a practice-oriented attitude in dealing (not only) with criminal relevant conflicts. Therefore, he says that we have moved forward beyond restorative justice to restorative practice.[30]

Application[edit]

In system-wide offences[edit]

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission shows how restorative justice can be used to address system-wide offenses that affect broad swaths of a group or a society.[31]

In criminal cases[edit]

In criminal cases, victims can testify about the crime’s impact upon their lives, receive answers to questions about the incident, and participate in holding the offender accountable. Meanwhile, offenders can tell their story of why the crime occurred and how it has affected their lives. They are given an opportunity to compensate the victim directly – to the degree possible.[32] In criminal cases, this can include money, community service in general and/or specific to the offense, education to prevent recidivism, and/or expression of remorse.

In social justice cases[edit]

In social justice cases, impoverished victims such as foster children are given the opportunity to describe their future hopes and make concrete plans to transition out of state custody in a group process with their supporters.[33] In social justice cases, restorative justice is used for problem solving.[34]

Restorative justice can proceed in a courtroom or within a community or nonprofit organization.

A courtroom process might employ pretrial diversion, dismissing charges after restitution. In serious cases, a sentence may precede other restitution.[35]

In the community, concerned individuals meet with all parties to assess the experience and impact of the crime. Offenders listen to victims’ experiences, preferably until they are able to empathize with the experience. Then they speak to their own experience: how they decided to commit the offense. A plan is made for prevention of future occurrences, and for the offender to address the damage to the injured parties. All agree. Community members hold the offender(s) accountable for adherence to the plan.[citation needed]

While restorative justice typically involves an encounter between the offender and the victim, some organizations, such as the Mennonite Central Committee Canada, emphasize a program’s values over its participants. This can include programs that only serve victims (or offenders for that matter), but that have a restorative framework. Indigenous groups are using the restorative justice process to try to create more community support for victims and offenders, particularly the young people. For example, different programs are underway at Kahnawake, a Mohawk reserve in Canada, and at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Lakota nation, within the United States.

In prisons[edit]

Besides serving as an alternative to civil or criminal trial, restorative justice is also thought to be applicable to offenders who are currently incarcerated.[36] The purpose of restorative justice in prisons is to assist with the prisoner’s rehabilitation, and eventual reintegration into society. By repairing the harm to the relationships between offenders and victims, and offenders and the community that resulted from the crime, restorative justice seeks to understand and address the circumstances which contributed to the crime. This is thought to prevent recidivism (that is, that the offender repeats the undesirable behavior) once the offender is released.

The potential for restorative justice to reduce recidivism is one of the strongest and most promising arguments for its use in prisons. However, there are both theoretical and practical limitations, which can make restorative justice unfeasible in a prison environment. These include: difficulty engaging offenders and victims to participate in mediation; the controversial influence of family, friends, and the community; and the prevalence of mental illness among prisoners.[37]

In schools[edit]

In schools, restorative justice is an offshoot of the model used by some courts and law enforcement; it seeks to repair the harm that has been done by acknowledging the impact on the victim, community, and offender, accepting responsibility for the wrongdoing, and repairing the harm that was caused.[38] Restorative practices can “also include preventive measures designed to build skills and capacity in students as well as adults.”[39] Some examples of preventative measures in restorative practices might include teachers and students devising classroom expectations together or setting up community building in the classroom.[39] Restorative justice also focuses on justice as needs and obligations, expands justice as conversations between the offender, victim and school, and recognizes accountability as understanding the impact of actions and repairing the harm.[40] In this approach, teachers, students and the community can reach agreements to meet all stakeholders’ needs.[40] Collectivity is emphasized as the group must create an action plan to heal the harm and find a way to bring the offender back into the community.[41]

Processes[edit]

Victim-offender mediation[edit]

Victim-offender mediation, (VOM, also called victim-offender dialogue, victim-offender conferencing, victim-offender reconciliation, or restorative justice dialogue), is usually a meeting, in the presence of a trained mediator, between victim and offender. This system generally involves few participants, and often is the only option available to incarcerated offenders. VOM originated in Canada as part of an alternative court sanction in a 1974 Kitchener, Ontario case involving two accused vandals who met face-to-face with their many victims.[citation needed]

Family group conferencing[edit]

Family group conferencing (FGC) has a wider circle of participants than VOM, adding people connected to the primary parties, such as family, friends and professionals. FGC is often the most appropriate system for juvenile cases, due to the important role of the family in a juvenile offender’s life. Examples can be found in New South Wales (Australia) under the 1997 Young Offenders Act, and in New Zealand under the 1989 Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act. The New South Wales scheme has been favorably evaluated by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Fiji utilises this form of mediation when dealing with cases of child sexual assault. While it may be seen as beneficial to involve the victim’s family in the process, there are multiple issues stemming from this. For example, the vast majority of offenders are known to the victims in these cases. In a Fijian context, the notion of family extends wider than that of the normative Western idea. Therefore, involving the family in these cases may become complicated, for the family may not necessarily side with the victim or the process itself could cause rifts in within the clan. Furthermore, the process as a whole places much emphasis on the victim forgiving the offender, as opposed to the offender making amends with the victim. This is because Fijian culture greatly values community harmony. Overall, the current process has the potential to cause great trauma and revictimise the victim.[42]

Restorative conferencing[edit]

Restorative conferencing (RC) also involves a wider circle of participants than VOM. Restorative conferences, which have also been called restorative justice conferences, family group conferences and community accountability conferences, originated as a response to juvenile crime.[43][44]

An RC is a voluntary, structured meeting between offenders, victims, representatives from the community,[45] and both parties’ family and friends, in which they address consequences and restitution. RC is explicitly victim-sensitive.[46][47]

The conference facilitator arranges the meeting. In some cases, a written statement or a surrogate replaces an unwilling victim. The conference facilitator sticks to a simple script[48] and keeps the conference focused, but intentionally does not actively participate in structuring the outcome of the conference. The goal of the conference is for the participants to produce a mutually acceptable agreement that addresses the harm caused by the offender.[45] The intent is to allow subsequent conferences to succeed without a facilitator.[46]

RC was successfully introduced in several schools in England, including St. Augustine of Canterbury (2004–2008) Taunton, Somerset by Avon and Somerset police officer, Andy Jenrick. Positive results led officials to offer training to all Somerset secondary schools.[49][50]

Community restorative boards[edit]

A community restorative board, also referred to as Community Justice Committees in Canada and Referral Order Panels in England & Wales, is typically composed of a small group, prepared by intensive training, who conduct public, face-to-face meetings. Judges may sentence offenders to participate; police may refer them before charging them; or they may engage outside the legal system.

Victims meet with the board and offender, or submit a written statement which is shared with the offender and the board. Board members discuss the nature and impact of the offense with the offender. The discussion continues until they agree on a deadline and specific actions for the offender to take. Subsequently, the offender documents progress in fulfilling the agreement. After the deadline passes, the board submits a compliance report to the court or police, ending the board’s involvement.

Restorative circles and restorative systems[edit]

In Brazil, the juvenile justice system, neighbourhoods and schools have begun to use Restorative Circles[51][52] developed by Dominic Barter inspired by Nonviolent Communication. The approach involves a much wider circle of participants than conventional victim/offender conferencing, and begins with establishing a restorative system in the neighbourhood or school where circles will be held. As such, Barter’s approach offers scope for radical social transformation. This process is being adopted in Germany, the USA the UK, Canada and Uganda, and outside of the justice and education systems.[citation needed]

In Hawaii, Huikahi Restorative Circles allow prisoners to meet with their families and friends in a group process to support their transition back into the community. Meetings specifically address the need for reconciliation with victims of their crime(s).[53] A Modified Restorative Circle was developed and used in Hawaii for offenders whose loved ones are unable or unwilling to participate. Other prisoners sit in the Circle and help develop the transition plan.[citation needed]

Circles of Support and Accountability[edit]

Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) originated as a project of the “Welcome In”, a Mennonite church in Hamilton, Ontario. This approach has demonstrated the capacity to enhance the safe integration of otherwise high-risk sex offenders with their community. Canada judges some sex offenders too dangerous for any form of conditional release, “detaining” them until they serve their entire sentence. A subsequent conviction often leads to designation as a “Dangerous Offender”.

Prior to 1994, many such offenders were released without any support or observation beyond police surveillance. Between 1994 and 2007, CoSA assisted with the integration of well over 120 such offenders. Research indicated that surrounding a ‘core member’ with 5–7 trained volunteer circle members reduced recidivism by nearly 80%.[54] Further, recidivist offences were less invasive and less brutal than without the program. CoSA projects now exist in every Canadian province and every major urban centre. CoSA projects are also operational in several U.S. states (Iowa, California, Minnesota, Oregon, Ohio, Colorado, Vermont) as well as in several United Kingdom regions (Cornwall, Devon, Hampshire, Thames Valley, Leicestershire, North Wales, North Yorkshire, and Manchester).

Sentencing circles[edit]

Sentencing circles (sometimes called peacemaking circles) use traditional circle ritual and structure to involve all interested parties. Sentencing circles typically employ a procedure that includes: (1) application by the offender; (2) a healing circle for the victim; (3) a healing circle for the offender; (4) a sentencing circle; and (5) follow-up circles to monitor progress.

Implementation[edit]

Brian Royce developed an approach he called “Operationalized Restorative Justice” for a contracted private prison for the state of Pennsylvania in the United States. The system was adopted and used in numerous contracted prisons around the country. The system was shown to significantly reduce recidivism and internal conflicts within the prisons.[55]

The two primary uses within an institution are to manage behavior overall and to respond to specific criminal actions and behavior. Using restorative justice as an overall BMT is significantly more effective over the long term. It can be difficult to implement, as such wide changes to the culture of an institution are usually met with resistance from both the staff and the institution population.

Predominately restorative justice is used for the victim, specifically with a kind of mediation and/or restitution from the offender. Restorative justice is based on bringing together the victim, the offender, and the community; all have equal parts in repairing the relationships destroyed by crime. Generally the offender is held accountable to the victim for the criminal action and accountable as well to the community. The underlying premise of restorative justice holds that all three are accountable to each other.

The offender must be held accountable, the offender must give back in the way prescribed by the victim to make amends. Additionally the offender must also give back to the community, as crime devalues any community. The community is accountable to the victim by assisting in enforcing any reparations agreed upon by the victim, and to the offender by helping the person avoid committing any more crime. In some cases, it may be difficult for the victim to participate in meetings directly, but the system is based on the offender being brought to face the implications of the crime.

To implement the system within an institution, considerable ground work is needed. First, the institution has to establish what the norms are – what really goes on within the institution, evaluate whether they are acceptable to the whole community, and work from there. Ideally, the institution will define and establish positive norms which each person understands. For example, Albert Elias wrote about the norms of Respect, Responsibility, Confrontation, Help, Trust and Support. He gave concrete definitions for these norms, and held the inmates in their care to these norms, establishing what was called normative behavior. It is likely better for an institution to decide its norms through a process.

The second aspect is to ensure that the rules support the norm and are consistent with it, to make the rules enforceable. When there are clear norms/rules for what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, the community can be held accountable to live by these. This can be done numerous ways, depending on the size of the institution, the physical layout, the type, the counseling programs, and the staffing. Here is where the separation between a response to criminal behavior within the institution and the overall behavior management tool becomes apparent. When used as a response to criminal behavior, the sequence of events is:

  • Crime takes place;
  • A circle (defined below) is called, composed of the victim, offender, and people within the community; and
  • The circle discusses what happened, and develops and executes some sort of reparation.

A circle is one of the most commonly used Restorative Justice practices, usually comprising the offender and the community and, if applicable, the victim. The offender must acknowledge the crime, the community discusses the implications, and, if applicable, the victim discusses the ramifications and the personal “cost”. The circle must come to agreement on an acceptable restoration. The offender has to restore the cost, or provide a kind of compensation. The circle has regular meetings to discuss the progress, address any issues, and ultimately attempt to restore justice.

Rituals of circles[edit]

According to writer Kay Pranis, the circle is “a dialogue process that works intentionally to create a safe space to discuss very difficult or painful issues in order to improve relationships and resolve differences.”[56] Organizations such as schools can implement restorative circles for the whole school community such as classroom circles or check-in check out circles–these circles are usually used to create a fun environment, build trust, or community building, and typically the classroom teachers and the class participate.[57]  School communities can also address problematic behaviors that caused harm through restorative circles. These circles involve families, teachers, students, peers, and community members.[57] The type of circle utilized reflects its purpose; however, the basic components remain the same.

Restorative circles may follow the following procedures:[58]

  • Opening and closing: Creating the atmosphere for the meeting, setting the goals (the purpose of the circle)
  • Talking piece: an item passed around the circle. Everyone listens to the individual holding the talking piece. This can serve as a way to bring out the quiet voices and a way of active listening
  • Guidelines: setting general rules to remind everyone how to treat others in the circle, making it a safe environment for everyone to speak comfortably and honestly
  • The “Keeper”: At least one person to facilitate the circle; the “Keeper” prepares the circle and keeps the dialogue going. Their job is to mediate, not dictate the group. There is a shared leadership in the circle, as everyone has the opportunity to contribute and learn from the group.
  • Respect: in every aspect of the circle, there is to be respect towards everyone in the circle and being sensitive to all discussions.

When used as an overall behavior management tool, Restorative Justice embraces cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT) through counseling and therapy. It is based on a person’s taking positive actions and being able to see oneself positively. By feeling good about being positive, the person is more likely to maintain the positive behavior. CBT can contribute to the success of restorative justice. Restorative justice and CBT are being used together in alternative counseling, specifically targeted at sex offenders, juvenile offenders, extremely violent offenders, drug counseling, family counseling, etc.

Limitations on restitution[edit]

Some judicial systems only recognize monetary restitution agreements. For instance, if victim and offender agree that the offender would pay $100 and mow the victim’s lawn five times, the court would only recognize the $100 as restitution. Some agreements specify a larger monetary amount (e.g., $200) to be paid if the non-monetary restitution is not completed.

Many jurisdictions cap the amount which a juvenile offender can be required to pay. Labor regulations typically limit the personal service tasks that can be performed by minors. In addition, personal service usually must be approved by the juvenile’s parents.

According to the Victim Offender Mediation Association, victims are not allowed to profit from restitution (the equivalent of punitive damages); only out-of-pocket losses (actual damages) can be recovered. Courts can disallow unreasonable compensation arrangements.

Poor facilitator training is a common cause of poorly designed agreements.

Confidentiality[edit]

Some restorative justice systems, especially victim-offender mediation and family group conferencing, require participants to sign a confidentiality agreement. These agreements usually state that conference discussions will not be disclosed to nonparticipants. The rationale for confidentiality is that it promotes open and honest communication.

Recidivism[edit]

Reduction of recidivism is also a goal of RJ,[59] secondary to the restoration of offenders.[60] Proponents argue that it can prevent reoffending[59] and deter other potential criminals.[61] Critics counter that RJ does not significantly influence crime rates.[60][61]

While some older studies showed mixed results, as of 2013, studies that compared recidivism rates have become more definitive and in favor of Restorative Justice.[59][61] Some studies claim modest, relative reductions,[62][63][64][65] but more recent studies are finding significant and meaningful reductions in recidivism rates (see below).

After defining RJ more accurately and perhaps improving RJ practices, Latimer, Dowden and Muise (2005)[66] conducted the second meta-analysis on the effectiveness of RJ. This study is important because it addresses the file-drawer problem. Also, some of the studies analyzed implemented a randomized controlled trial (a gold standard in research methods), although this does not represent the majority of studies included. This meta-analysis lends empirical support for the effectiveness of RJ to lower recidivism rates and increase compliance and satisfaction rates. However, the authors caution that a self-selection bias is rife through most studies of restorative justice. They reference authors from one study[67] who found no evidence that restorative justice has a treatment effect on recidivism beyond a self-selection effect.

The third meta-analysis on the effectiveness of RJ was conducted by Bradshaw, Roseborough, and Umbreit (2006). The results of this meta-analysis add empirical support for the effectiveness of RJ in reducing juvenile recidivism rates.

Since then Baffour (2006) and Rodriguez’s (2007) studies also supports the use of RJ over the traditional justice system when it comes to recidivism rates. Bergseth and Bouffard (2007, 2012) supports these findings and also concludes that there may be some long-term effects of RJ over the traditional justice system; as well as RJ being more effective with serious crimes. RJ participants are less likely to commit serious crimes if they do re-offend and they go longer without re-offending. All of these studies found that RJ is equally effective regardless of race.

Sherman & Strang’s (2007) book is a review of the previous literature and they conclude that in no way can RJ be more harmful than the traditional justice system. It is at least equally as effective as the traditional justice system in all cases. In most cases (especially with more serious offenses and with adult offenders) it is significantly more effective than the traditional justice system at lowering recidivism rates. These authors conclusions are as follows… 1) Substantially reduced repeat offending for some offenders, but not all. 2) Doubled (or more) the offenders brought to justice as diversion from CJ [Conventional Justice or traditional justice]. 3) Reduced crime victims’ post-traumatic stress symptoms and related costs. 4) Provided both victims and offenders with more satisfaction with justice than CJ. 5) Reduced crime victims’ desire for violent revenge against their offenders. 6) Reduced the costs of criminal justice, when used as diversion from CJ. 7) Reduced recidivism more than prison (adults) or as well as prison (youths). (Sherman & Strang, 2007, p. 4).

A recent meta-analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration (2013) on the effect of youth justice conferencing on recidivism in young offenders found that there was no significant effect for restorative justice conferencing over normal court procedures for number re-arrested, nor monthly rate of reoffending. They also noted a lack of high quality evidence regarding the effectiveness of restorative justice conferencing for young offenders.[68]

Restorative practices[edit]

The restorative practices (RP) concept has its roots in RJ. RP is an emerging field of practice and study devoted to building social capital through participatory learning and decision-making. RP ties together theory, research and practice in fields such as education, counseling, criminal justice, social work and organizational management. The unifying hypothesis of restorative practices is that human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive behavioural changes when others do things with them (via collaboration), rather than to them (via coercion) or for them (via independent action).

In criminal justice, RP circles and conferences allow involved parties to resolve offenses collaboratively.[69] In social work, RP family group decision-making (FGDM) and FGC support collaboration within families, e.g., to protect children.[70] In education, student circles and groups collaborate to peacefully resolve disputes.[71]

The criminal justice field uses the phrase “restorative justice”;[72] social workers say “empowerment”;[73] educators prefer “positive discipline”[74] or “the responsive classroom”;[75]while leadership consultants choose “horizontal management”.[76]

RP is spreading in multiple countries, in education, criminal justice, family and youth and-serving and workplace applications.[44][77]

RJ has not currently succeeded when applied to drug offences, sexual assault and domestic violence. South Australia and New Zealand have attempted RJ with juvenile sexual offenders.[77]

Indigenous regions of Canada have tentatively implemented circle sentencing to deal with domestic violence. Advocates believe that it may be applicable to these indigenous communities because it relates to traditional cultural values of restoring balance in the community. In addition, First Nations have low regard for the local (punitive) court system, in which their people are over-represented in court and in prison.

Since 2000, Kahnawake, a Kanien’kehá:ka reserve, has introduced the use of restorative justice to intervene before an arrest occurs, and to prevent one. Feeling ill-served by the adversarial Canadian system, the community is particularly interested in incorporating restorative justice to work with its younger members and help prevent future offenses.[78]Some Native American nations have also begun to adopt Restorative Justice practices; the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation is planning a tribal justice center to include a courtroom for Restorative Justice.

The role of the facilitator is key to a successful restorative justice conference outcome for both victim and offender, according to a 2010 study.[79]

In schools, circles are not the only way that restorative justice can be utilized. Restorative justice is being used by schools in a wide variety of ways.[80] Some schools use mediation and conferencing between students or teachers and students. These conferences are facilitated by a trained mediator to peacefully resolve the conflict and prevent conflict in the future.[81] Other schools have utilized a peer jury in which trained student volunteers offer guidance and support to the referred student with advice on how to repair the harm they have done.[81] Restorative justice can also be applied in more creative ways such as student-led conferences, which serves as an alternative to the traditional system of teacher-led conferences and provides students with a larger voice.[81] Ultimately, restorative practices can be implemented in a variety of ways that still support the underlying philosophy of inclusivity, respect, repairing relationships, and responsibility.[80]

Other social movements[edit]

Prison abolition[edit]

Prison abolition not only calls for the eradication of cages, but also new perspectives and methodologies for conceptualizing crime, an aim that is shared by restorative justice. In an abolitionist style of restorative justice, participation is voluntary and not limited by the requirements of organizations or professionals, the process includes all relevant stakeholders and is mediated by an independent third party. The emphasis is on meeting the needs of and strengthening the community.[82]

Positive criminology and positive victimology[edit]

Positive criminology and positive victimology are conceptual approaches, developed by the Israeli criminologist Natti Ronel and his research team, that are well connected to restorative justice theories and practice. Positive criminology and victimology both place an emphasis on social inclusion and on unifying and integrating forces at individual, group, social and spiritual levels that are associated with the limiting of crime and recovery from victimization. In traditional approaches the study of crime, violence and related behaviors emphasizes the negative aspects in people’s lives that are associated with deviance, criminality and victimization. A common understanding is that human relationships are affected more by destructive encounters than by constructive or positive ones. Positive criminology and victimology argue that a different approach is viable, based on three dimensions – social integration, emotional healing and spirituality – that constitute positive direction indicators.

Research[edit]

A 2007 meta-study of all research projects concerning restorative justice conferencing published in English between 1986 and 2005 found positive results, specifically for victims:[3]

  • Greater ability to return to work, to resume normal daily activities, and to sleep
  • No cases of offenders verbally or violently abusing victims
  • Reduced fear of the offender (especially for violence victims); lower perceived likelihood of another offense; increased sense of security; reduced anger towards the offender; greater sympathy for the offender and the offender’s supporters; greater feelings of trust in others; increased feelings of self-confidence; reduced anxiety

Other findings included:

  • The only principled basis for selectively allowing, or banning, RJ is harm reduction.
  • Limited public familiarity and misconceptions about RJ
  • Greater availability, together with information about victims’ positive views is likely to increase the proportion of victims willing to participate.

In July 2011, the International Center for Transitional Justice published a report entitled “To Live as Other Kenyans do: A Study of the Demands of Kenyan Victims of Human Rights Violations”.[83] The findings are based on individual and group interviews of victims of human rights abuses from Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence. It highlights the importance of a victim-centered approach to determine the most effective mode of implementation for a comprehensive reparations program. The main finding of the report is that victims demand tangible basic benefits lost as a product of violence, such as food and shelter. It also acknowledges the need for symbolic reparations, such as formal apologies. The provision of reparations will in a sense create a restoration of the way life was before violence, and also signal the moving forward of a society through institutional change.

The COREPOL Project (Conflict Resolution, Mediation and Restorative Justice and the Policing of Ethnic Minorities in Germany, Austria and Hungary) tries to broaden the fundament of knowledge concerning applied Restorative Justice concepts in Germany, Austria and Hungary. COREPOL uses a comparative design (Germany, Austria, Hungary) to establish whether better police – minority relations can be achieved through means of a Restorative Justice (RJ) approach. The extent and cultural particularities of RJ programs and their affiliation to the criminal justice system is ascertained. Then specific minority populations (Turks in Germany, Roma in Hungary, Africans in Austria) will be examined in regard to the country’s security context. The involvement of police in RJ programs for minority populations will be explored. Finally, the proposed research will exemplify the scope of RJ approaches for the improvement of police – minority communication and interaction. Based on the legality principle and on an inquisitorial civil law tradition of policing and criminal justice, the partner countries’ legal and policing systems differ substantially from the Anglo-American-Australian hemisphere of restorative justice. The findings will have a wider impact on the Middle and Eastern EU situation. The research will include open questions of gender, age and cultural compatibility of RJ. With positions at police universities the researchers are well grounded in police science and have carried out previous work on minorities. This grants them access to the field and to practical areas of police work and management. Their principal involvement in B.A./ M.A. programs for police officers and in further European research secures dissemination into police and the scientific community. COREPOL is coordinated by the German Police University and funded through the European Commission´s Seventh Framework Program (FP7).

Criticisms[edit]

According to Morris, the following are some of the most common criticisms that are used against the practicality or realism of restorative justice:

…restorative justice erodes legal rights; restorative justice results in net-widening; restorative justice trivializes crime (particularly men’s violence against women); restorative justice fails to “restore” victims and offenders; restorative justice fails to effect real change and to prevent recidivism; restorative justice results in discriminatory outcomes; restorative justice extends police powers; restorative justice leaves power imbalances untouched; restorative justice leads to vigilantism; restorative justice lacks legitimacy; and restorative justice fails to provide “justice”.[84]

Another critique of restorative justice suggests that professionals are often left out of the restorative justice conversation. Albert W. Dzur and Susan M. Olson argue that this sector of justice cannot be successful without professionals. They claim that professionals can aid in avoiding problems that come up with informal justice and propose the theory of democratic professionalism, where professionals are not just agents of the state – as traditional understandings would suggest – but as mediums, promoting community involvement while still protecting individuals’ rights.[85]

Additionally, some critics like Gregory Shank and Paul Takagi see restorative justice as an incomplete model in that it fails to fix the fundamental, structural inequalities that make certain people more likely to be offenders than others.[86] They and others question the structure of society and the fairness of institutional systems at their very core, pushing for addressing the root causes of many one-on-one offenses as well as for creating a socio-economic system that will be more conducive to harmonious, healthy living in general.[87]

Finally, some researchers agree that more research must be conducted to support the validity of restorative justice in schools, specifically in how its implemented.[88] More exactly, restorative justice practices that are inconsistent, insufficient, or run out of funding tend to have the worst reputations for success.[89] While many research studies support positive findings in restorative justice, continuing studies are still needed.

Mass media[edit]

A recent increased public awareness of alternatives to the classic prison system has created favorable social climate for the growth of restorative justice in the public domain. The growth of the victim identity and victimization of our society has created satisfactory conditions for public acceptance of the ideas of restorative justice, especially through massmedia. Studies by Kelly M. Richards have shown that the general public would be open to the idea of alternative forms of justice only after the idea has been explicitly explained to them.[90] According to other studies performed by Vicky De Mesmaecker, in order for restorative justice to become publicly accepted, there must be an effective public relations collaboration between the media and the criminologists.[91]

The use of forgiveness as a tool has in the restorative justice programs, run for victims and perpetrators of Rwandan genocide, the violence in Israeli–Palestinian conflict, andNorthern Ireland conflict, has also been documented in film, Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness (2012).[92][93]