Three weeks ago I used Restorative Justice in real life for the first time.
Last semester in the RJ House Course, I shared intimate details of my life with people who were recently complete strangers, but when it came to conflict with my friends, I often failed to find the right words to say. A disagreement amongst my housemates – who are also my friends – yielded the perfect opportunity to change that. I turned to RJ for help.
A failed house-plan for shared groceries had led to misunderstandings on what did and did not count as shared items – and why someone should, or should not, pay for “shared” items that another housemate had bought. Conversations about money can be understandably tense and uncomfortable, but this one had turned into a 48-hour stalemate between two of my roommates. The four of us gathered around our kitchen table with the tension in the air palpable. Three pairs of eyes, who had never participated in any format of RJ, turned to me and I was thrust into my first (very unformal and not altogether tidy) circle process.
I was nervous, but excited. This circle invoked a plethora of potential opportunities for future use if it went well.
Turn-by-turn, we laid out our grievances with the failed grocery plan and turn-by-turn we proposed solutions to the issue(s) at hand. We reached a resolution, and all agreed on a new plan of action, to be implemented immediately. I felt successful.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about RJ is the way it constructs space for everyone’s voice to be heard, considered, and listened to equally. When it is your turn to speak, you are able to voice your thoughts without fear of intervention or rebuttal. This space was important when we felt our voices were misrepresented, misinterpreted, or simply silenced over the period of conflict for the past few days. After this first messy effort, I know RJ really is for every day.
However, that is not to say that my first independent circle lead was perfect. If anything, it was quite rough. I had forgotten to lay out some ground principles, failed to mention that we need to speak in “I” statements, and totally did not realize the extent of harm that had been done between the two roommates. The latter would require extra efforts and conversation in a one-on-one setting, which eventually took place and eventually allowed peace and laughter to re-enter our home.
But nonetheless, I was proud – I am proud – of my kitchen table RJ. In reflecting on my experiences in the RJ house course, I realized that the real challenge for me is not making myself vulnerable with strangers, it’s making myself vulnerable with the people that I feel know me best. It’s calling out the patterns of harm I’ve been complicit in and shedding light on them through RJ. It’s telling my housemates we need to have a meeting and we are using RJ to do it.
Three weeks ago I used RJ for the first time in my real life. I have been thinking about how I can and should and will do this more, ever since.