Assigning blame and assigning innocence, labeling people not the behaviors, prevents both sides from learning.

After 29 years as a law enforcement officer, my friend said he saw 1 out of 1,000 assualts that were only caused by one person.

He was explaining that as a society, we assign blame, and we assign innocence.  I see this, as victim and offender are labeled.  We assign particular services, particular responses based on the label.

I prescribe to the philosophy that people act ‘harmfully’ because they feel ‘wronged’.  They are working to restore their own violated sense of justice.  (Read Preventing Violence by James Gilligan or Dreams from the Monster Factory, Sunny Schwartz).  See conflict is inevitable, violence is not!

What we, as parents, teachers, restorative practioners need to do, it to teach young people how to deal with feelings that they are wronged.  Hitting, punching, choking, fighting, swearing, insulting are not good choices.  How can we respond to constructively prevent future harm, and repair the wrong that happened?

In my opinion, it is to erase those labels as much as possible, victims need protected, offenders need rehabilitated, yet behavior doesn’t happen in isolation, especially the behavior around physical violence.  Please don’t think I am accepting violence, or thinking we should not respond to it, my point is that we should take the situation under consideration in the entire context of “what happened”.

Three situations came to my attention, the “Victim” called the police to report their “Offender”.  The person who placed the call, was then arrested!  Imagine a chain – link to link.  If we only focus on one link, we miss the bigger picture.

I think when it comes to lower end types of violence, (not severe crime/sexual assualts) like conflicts at school, some, NOT all victims hold a piece of culpibility for the situation.  When that happens people carry that around for a long time.

Expressed in Circle:  Years earlier, during hockey practice he lipped off to an upper classman.  The upper classman reacted violently, aggressively.  He was punished by the coach.  The younger person never acknowleged he was deserving of the strike, based on what he had said.  The upper classman accepted his time out, and didn’t say anything.  The storyteller, really carried that guilt.

Another young person in Circle, said the things he did wrong, that he didn’t get caught for, bothered him more, made him feel worse about himself.

Another college age person felt terribly because 10 years earlier, when he was bullied in gym, he fought back, got in trouble, and amends between he and the classmate never happened.  The classmate later died in a car crash.  He is carrying unresolved issues, for not resolving the conflict.

When we lock people into victim roles, we don’t give them the space to realize what they could have done differently.  I really hate the “blame the victim” so I want to clarify the difference.  When we don’t explore “what happened” we are leaving out the story.  In the story you realize what led up to the harmful act.  Maybe just maybe there was a piece of hurtful behavior that could be used as a learning/teaching moment.

I see this when the offender of a racial slur, becomes the victim of violence.  The victim of the statment becomes the offender of the violence.  This is usually when I get called in, because the lines are blurred.  The offending BEHAVIOR was wrong.  And usually, something happened before the racial insult was tossed out.

Interactions just don’t happen in isolation.  Yet we prescribe isolation as a remedy.  I wish we could just teach people to resolve conflict to restore connections, while promoting empathy and self-worth, for everyone involved.  We’d all get over things quicker, we’d get to move ahead without carrying around any baggage.

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Filed under Counter-point, Elementary Classroom Circles, offenders, Restorative Justice, Restorative Justice in Schools, Victims

One Response to Assigning blame and assigning innocence, labeling people not the behaviors, prevents both sides from learning.

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