I was in Portland the 28th and 29th of June for the 8th annual NW Justice Forum.
While there is much to discuss regarding the material and interesting people that I met, I will focus on two pieces. The first will be a discussion by Aaron Lyons of the Fraser Region Community Justice Initiatives. This discussion was a deep, thoughtful exploration of how shame, empathy, worthiness and vulnerability interplay around harm and punishment. The second piece (which will be a different post) will be regarding how dealing with real trauma from violence is qualitatively different than other types of harm and needs to be treated differently; this includes using different facilitative tools. This second topic was facilitated by Alan Edwards.
Often people ask, “What role does shame play in addressing harm?” First, let’s define shame. According to Dr. Brene Brown: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. So where does this “unworthiness” fit into discipline? Aaron argues that shame is exactly what we don’t want to feel. In fact, if we want to change behavior, we need to promote acceptance and belonging – the opposite of shame. Promoting connection in discipline is essential for those that have harmed to feel a desire to make amends. Aaron makes the case that shame and empathy are opposite ends of an emotional pendulum. In this way, empathy is the experience of connectedness, or the experience of deep and true understanding and inclusion.
The conversation moved on to conclusions about what to do after we understand this. If shame and empathy are related and on the same spectrum, then what?… Restorative Justice can use vulnerability to move an experience from one of shame to one of empathy. This is the beauty of Restorative Justice. RJ creates the safe space to be vulnerable and then experience empathy. By using this process RJ facilitators don’t “teach” empathy but instead provide the space to experience a true emotion.