The draw for me to sit with people who face terrible loss, or who are facing their terrible behavior, is deep. Every time I do it I am inspired. It has touched me in extremely profound ways. Some people have commented on this work, e.g. http://www.oprah.com/own-confronting/Colleen-Meets-Her-Husbands-Killer, and asked me “How can you do it?” They have also said things like, “I couldn’t sleep at night if I had your job.” Far from being disturbing, I love this work, and I can’t imagine not doing it.
After watching the documentary movie Flight From Death: the quest for immortality (http://www.hulu.com/watch/173530/flight-from-death-the-quest-for-immortality), I better understand what compels my work.
Restorative processes bring people face to face with terrible loss. Not only material losses, but also the painful “social losses” they suffer. Sometimes the social loss is more damaging than the material loss. Even when a life is lost, when harmed people continue being resentful and angry, their loss can remain, and diminish their capacity to be happy.
Overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt often result from our bad and harmful behavior. Sadly, and very ironically, these feelings can also result when bad things happen to us. When I was almost murdered years ago, after my surgery and taking 4 months for my facial wounds to heal, I suffered terrible social loss. It took me about 20 years to finally stop being resentful toward myself. While I appreciated that the attack actually helped me find a better life within only months, it took me years to forgive myself. The physical and material wounds healed quickly, but it took much longer for the social harm to heal. The inspiration of all the people I met doing restorative justice work helped me finally heal.
Restorative processes give us the opportunity to face, and try to find some way to heal our pain from social and physical loss. It can help all of us, those who did the bad acts, those harmed, and the rest of the community.
Flight From Death discusses Ernest Becker’s work, (The Denial of Death), Sam Keen, and the fascinating research by Soloman, Greenberg, et al, and others.
Research shows the importance of being mindful of, and aware of, our eventual death for healthy relationships. One fascinating study was of a group of trial judges who were reminded of death, and then evaluated for their sentencing preferences. That research showed incredible results that I am sure none of the judges would have imagined.
Becker, Soloman, Greenberg, Keen, David Loy, et al, are right, we need to be aware of the finality of life in order to fully live it, and to live with less fear, and with less violence. We must remain vigilant in being conscience that life ends. This does not have to be a depressing subject either. It can make us grateful and loving. We can appreciate life more knowing it’s not forever.
Restorative justice helps us remember no one is immortal. We can find ways to deal with the worst losses in life, and even find meaning and lead better lives when terrible things happen. Mahalo Becker, Soloman, Keen, et al, for doing this important work.