Not asking “why”. Another restorative justice practice fitting for suicide response.

Original post 4/3/2011

Updated on September 13, 2018

One of the methods I stick to when it comes to restorative justice, is steering clear from the question “why?”.  The best way to do that is to support the Restorative Questions (cards from IIRP).

When we ask an offender “why”.  You get the response “I don’t know”.  Hearing “I don’t know” when someone hurt you is aggravating.  I relate this to experiences as a parent or girlfriend.  My emotions got hot, hearing “I don’t know”.  Hot emotions reduce the ability to listen, have empathy and be solution focused.

The Restorative Justice Questions approach it differently.  The story about what happened is shared, and “what were you thinking at the time” is shared.  When I prepare people I remind them, that they can’t offer “I wasn’t thinking” because we are all thinking, while we are doing other things.  By the way did you know it only takes 25% ofour brain to listen?  We get busy with the other 75% and then aren’t listening as well.  (Article here, see the paragraph We Are Not Good Listeners).

So I am comfortable with a process that doesn’t ask “why”.  Now my work with suicide survivors is growing.  My work at understanding the act of suicide itself, is being informed by hearing the struggles of those that experienced a loved ones death by suicide and those that survived suicidal thoughts and actions.  All this began by offering 3 Circles, following a suicide prevention forum.  Those 3 Circle unfolded into an entire program focus and a guide for grieving families.

Why is very hard when a suicide happens.  There is no one to ask, the person completed.  The loss of hope, the overwhelming need to end the pain cannot be understood by those that aren’t suicidal.  I believe we have all considered it.  In some form or another – imagine along a continuum.  Maybe the far left is a thought that, “someday I will die”, and over to the right “I am going to kill myself right now”.  Maybe the person crosses over into a relief about how being dead will end the pain.  I’ve learned suicidal people feel no other option and that to intervene we must present options.

The amount of survivor guilt in suicide is enormous.  The “if only”, and the “what if’s”.  I’ve learned survivor guilt will block your healing.  I’ve worked with enough grieving parents to know this, the pain NEVER ends, when you lose a child.  The “surviving guilt” is something different.  I am seeing this the same for survivors and loved ones of suicide.

One trainer suggested we let suicidal people know they would be transferring their pain to others.  To me that is encouraging empathy.  Empathy is another familiar practice of the restorative justice practitioner.  I have learned that if you teach listening you teach empathy.

The other piece of teaching and training I can’t wait to get to is working with students in schools.  I learn so much from going to the source.  Youth will text other youth suicidal threats.  They go to their peer group, the peers doesn’t always go to adults.  A challenge facing us, but enough information to know how to intervene with the at-risk.

Restorative Justice is about accountability and healing.