Ask yourself, apology or acknowledgement? What repairs your heart?

Recent comment on somebody else’s blog:

There will be no justice in this community, until someone apologizes for what they have done to others. Get my drift?

I thought,  “really“?  Because I don’t think “sorry” is enough.  I think acknowledgement is much more important.  I would rather have, “yes, I acknowledge your feelings, I acknowledge I am responsible for that”.  It puts me in a place of doing something about it.  What if the person, says “I’m sorry” but they still don’t think they did anything wrong?  Is that justice?

I have a childhood memory of being a little kid, having a fight with my brother, he’s 2 years younger and I bet we were 3 & 5 at the time.  My perspective was that HE would always get ME in trouble.  I was NEVER at fault, he would cry bringing in Mom, and I’d be responsible.  He tattled on me, Mom told me to say “sorry”.  I said “no”.  He screamed louder.  I said “Fine, SWOORRRYYEEEE”.  I didn’t mean it.  I am sure, I was plotting my revenge . . .  as soon as Mom left the room.

I believe good Restorative Justice practice leaves the apology and the forgiveness to the side.  It’s on the SIDE, because what is front and center is the dialogue.  The discussion of “here’s how I was impacted”, “here’s how I was harmed”.  It’s about a relationship dynamic where people will take the time, make the space and listen to each other.

Something amazing about Restorative Justice,  apology and forgiveness come in when they are meant to arrive.  You don’t have to force it, you don’t have to focus on it.  I believe the flip side of grief is healing.  When something is the other side of the same coin, the flip side, that means aspects are very common.  For example, grief and healing are both very individualized and personal experiences.  I don’t believe any two people grieve the same or heal the same.  There are common themes people experience with loss and there are common symptoms people experience.  The journey to each is our own individual, self-directed relationship.

As a restorative justice practitioner, I practice from that kid that learned, being forced to say I’m sorry, meant I didn’t mean it.  One of my pet peeves is seeing a court order that requires a letter of apology within 30 days and restorative justice as recommended.  How can you say sorry, or write that letter of apology before you even know how you harmed someone?  Some victim advocates are concern restorative justice will re-traumatize a victim, what about a forced letter of apology?  How can you really apologize when you don’t even know the whole story of how you impacted someone.  Time and time again with Restorative Justice – the individualized experience makes the impact.  My point in this blog post – focus on accountability and acknowledgement and then apology will come.

As a practitioner you prepare and explore the person who caused harm, to take responsibility.  Usually at the end of that acknowledgement is the I’m sorry.  A well-meaning and sincere I’m sorry.  If you don’t know where victims are at, you risk pushing the standard script person A: “I’m Sorry”.  Person B: “I forgive you”.  I think it is okay, and empowering for victims to say, I can’t forgive you, I don’t forgive you.  (I just always plant the seed, and acknowledge that’s where you are today, and that is ok.)

If the focus is NOT to have people do that script, but to have a more deep and meaningful dialogue, you are doing deeper restorative justice.  If parties want to go there, which some do, it doesn’t mean to stand in the way of that either.  You carefully, negotiate both needs.  I recently wanted to end some friction, and I took responsibility for the conflict, said I was sorry.  It sort of took the wind out of the other person’s sail, I could tell there was more to be said.  It was if I burst the balloon, instead of letting the air seep out, making noise.  I think the other wanted to have it seep out, screeching.  LOL, I guess that tells me how I felt about it!  I didn’t have time for that.  Oh crap, now I realize maybe I didn’t mean it, I said it to end the conflict.  Hmm, I better go work on my restorative self a little!  Clearly the person wanted my accountability and NOT my apology.

In Restorative Justice process, you teach people and make the time for them to have a deep and meaningful dialogue.

This video is an excellent example:  Jo’s Story – Surving Rape.