How does Spite and Altruism relate to RJ and Empathy?

I often listen to Freakonomics Radio podcast… I love it!  It is always provocative articles about society, behavior, and economics.  One that I recently listened to was called “What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common?”  I found it exceptionally related to the previous writing on Empathy.  While shame and empathy are two sides of the same coin, or two ends of a spectrum.  The same can be said for Spite.  And what is spite?  And what is the other side of the spectrum?

Spite: a desire to hurt, annoy, or offend someone.  This is an incomplete definition.  True spite incorporates an element of hurt to ones-self.  To cut off one’s nose to spite your face.  To do harm to others while at the same time doing harm to yourself.  Sacrifice made in order to hurt another.  I won’t get into the stories of Bo or the Nuns but I will share one piece of research from the article.

One individual was given 10 dollars and then asked to split it with another person.  The second person was only able to accept the split or reject the split, in rejecting the split neither party got any money.  Typically anything below 20% was rejected, and seen as so unfair that the second party was willing to give up their 20% in order to prevent the first person from getting 80%.  This is making a personal sacrifice in order to inflict harm on another.

Why is this relevant to Restorative Justice?  The opposite or other side of the spectrum is altruism: making a sacrifice to help another; to inflict harm on one’s self in-order to benefit others.  This is a strange connection between these two behaviors.  In both cases we are harming ourselves or making sacrifices the outcomes of our actions have a negative or positive outcome for others.  While I wouldn’t recommend everyone be altruistic all the time, there is an interesting connection to Empathy and its opposite Shame.

When I write contract for RJ conferences it is important to think about the aultruisic nature of the agreement.  One party is making a sacrifice in-order to make amends for harm they caused.  Now many people ask about: is this really a genuine apology?  Well does it matter?  One person is “harming themselves” for the benefit of another.  That is an altruistic act by definition.  That act will work to build Empathy and rebuild their relationship.

About rjfacilitator

My experience, education, and passion have met in alternative discipline. Through my policy work and my mediation experience I have worked and studied the dynamic components of discipline in many settings. While Restorative Justice is not the only way to approach conflict in communities, it has provided me an effective model in which to examine and engage in conflict. We provide custom programs for schools, colleges, and youth serving agencies seeking to engage with conflict using healthy and sustainable tools.
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