Five Ways to See Justice Flourish Over the Holidays and Into the New Year

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Looking forward to a little time to relax and unwind over the holidays?  Great!  Aren’t we all.  And the good news is that this “downtime” can also be a great time to take stock—not just about who’s been naughty and nice, but how YOU can put your best self forward, in your relationships and in the world, for the year ahead.  Because as we all know, when we put our best self forward, we help create a more peaceful, and more just world.

Based on five foundational principles of restorative justice*, here are a few ways you can apply some practical justice-boosters into your own life and the world around you.

 1. Invite participation, and be inclusive.

To what extent are you experiencing “tunnel vision” in your work and social life?  Who around you might benefit from that extra invitational nudge to join in on an event or meet-up?  For example, I have gotten to know one of my 85-year old neighbours, who is somewhat secluded.  When she called me out of the blue, I realized I could invite her to an upcoming birthday party for my husband.  This seemed to make her day.  In our everyday situations, we can scan our environment and expand our vision toward including others (without needing to invite everyone all the time, of course!)

2. Address harm by being trauma-informed.

It’s sad but true, the people around us are affected by trauma.  A current buzzword in many fields of social service is “trauma informed practice”.   Even a cursory peek into the field will demonstrate that painful experiences of the past affect our present.   Our job is not to walk around being everyone’s counsellor, but putting on a more compassionate, trauma-informed lens can go a long way in creating safe, healing spaces for those around you.  At a recent conference, I was reminded that trauma shows up everyday: “Trauma is so prevalent that service providers should naturally assume that many of the people to whom they provide services have, in some way or another, been affected by trauma”  (for more on  this topic, one place to start is here).   This might be the year for you, and all of us, to commit to being trauma-informed in our approach to all of our relationships and interactions.

3. Ask for accountability, and be accountable.

One of the ways that we are seeing justice unfold in Canada is the recent release of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation on Indian Residential Schools.  Canadians now have the opportunity and obligation to meaningfully confront and respond to the deep harm inflicted on Aboriginal peoples and their culture.  While we hope that the response to the paper’s recommendations demonstrates meaningful accountability, it also can act as a reminder to practice accountability in our own lives.  Where do we need to own up?  Where do we need others to own up, and how do we ask for that in a respectful, connective way?  Western culture does not typically teach us how to do this, so it is truly soulful work to learn to take and ask for accountability.

4. Look for divisions, and seek reintegration.

Do you ever feel like there’s tension in the relationships around you, but it’s hard to put your finger on?  People say “it’s just always been that way”?  Usually that’s an indicator of some deep divisions at play that have been left unattended for a long time, to the point where it’s a way of being.  If this is in your workplace, sometimes integrating a roundtable check-in time during meetings can help reconnect and reintegrate folks.   If this is in your neighbourhood or extended community, perhaps taking simple steps to start breaking down barriers such as hosting a social event, or starting up a joint project like a Holiday Hamper, a “Fun-Run” or a community garden.  These almost ritual-like activities can sometimes address divides in ways that weeks and months of meetings cannot.  To explore more ideas on how to reintegrate where there have been divisions, check out the Little Book for Justice and Peacebuilding series which are full of thoughtful and practical insights for everyday applications.

5. Consider how to build safer, more just communities.

Finally, just communities are safe communities.   Where in your immediate surroundings can you seek justice?  Do you notice policies or environments that are unfair to youth?  Are there ways in which elders are excluded from fully participating in community life? Are there racial, gender or other inequalities that demand awareness and action? It can be empowering and freeing to team up with some like-minded folk and start an initiative that improves your sense of community and improves the world around you.  Maybe that’s an initiative that encourages youth to create mural art, such as the longstanding Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia (with the triple-whammy of giving youth a creative outlet, reducing unwanted graffiti, and building community connection).   We can all find ways to contribute to our own communities, leading us all towards a safer, more just society.

Let’s make 2016 a stellar year for personal growth and action towards just relationships and communities!

*Principles inspired by Restorative Justice: A Vision for Healing and Change by Susan Sharpe

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About the Author:

Catherine Bargen (MA) has been working within communities toward developing restorative justice (RJ) programs since 1999. She is experienced across Canada and internationally as a consultant, trainer and practitioner in restorative justice and conflict transformation strategies. Since 2002, she has provided training and consultation to over 2000 youth and adults in various settings including schools, faith groups, Aboriginal communities, government and non-government organizations. From 2001-2008, Catherine was on staff with Langley's Fraser Region Community Justice Initiatives Association (CJI) as their senior trainer, facilitator, and mediator. She also worked with CJI in partnership with the Langley School District to implement restorative practices into policy and practice across the District. In this capacity, she co-authored the internationally sought-after resources Conversation Peace and Talking Peace. Prior to her work with CJI, she served as the Victim Offender Mediation Program Coordinator in Edmonton and as a Restorative Justice Educator for Mennonite Central Committee. She received her Master's degree in Conflict Transformation in 2008. Catherine is currently the Restorative Justice Coordinator within Victim Services and Crime Prevention Branch of the government of B.C.. In this role, she is helping to achieve a coordinated vision and strategy of restorative justice across the province. As a volunteer, Catherine serves on the board of Peace it Together (www.peaceittogether.ca) and with the Quaker-based Alternatives to Violence Project.