Putting the “Rest” in Restorative Justice

Despite being in my third semester as a Restorative Justice Fellow, I have never felt less restorative in my personal life. I am teaching the RJ House Course and leading RJ teach-in sessions for the campus, yet the values I teach each week feel farther and farther away.

Alongside–and partially due to–the pandemic, my family is enduring some particularly tough challenges and changes. In August, I proposed an ultimatum to one of my parents, and when my requests for a change in behavior were not met, I ceased contact. Drawing this boundary was one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do in my 21 years, but it was an act of self-love, and it has served me well up until this point.

I recently found myself at a crossroads: my demands of that parent have been mostly met, and I have the opportunity to have a safe and facilitated conversation with them. If you would have told me in August that I would have this opportunity, I wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment. But now that the option is sitting in front of me, I can’t find it within myself to restore this relationship.

This olive branch was not extended in a vacuum: it’s midterm season, I’m applying to internships, and we’re now facing a campus-wide lockdown. I want to repair this harm, I do, but I am exhausted. This semester, I finally gave myself a break from overloading, but family drama can feel like a fifth–and sixth–class.

Perhaps I can begin to treat my lack of action not as an absence of restorative values, but as the presence of restorative values. As an RJ practitioner and teacher, I am often thinking about harm at an arm’s length; I speak hypothetically of harm, but I am not often forced to consider it in my own life.

RJ teaches us to focus on the needs of the person harmed. Well, I am the person harmed, and what I need is a break. I am not acting against what I’ve learned in my three semesters studying RJ, I am acting in accordance with a core tenet of RJ. If delaying this conversation in favor of emotional and physical rest is what I need, then, as a practitioner of RJ, I have to make sure that’s what I get.

When we think of acting restoratively, we often think of action items. But, if this experience–and this year–has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes restoration can only happen at rest. During this lockdown and during the rest of this semester, I encourage you to focus on this restorative aspect of RJ: listen to your needs, and make sure you provide for them.