Updated: Jan 3, 2022
Our actions have consequences.
It’s something we’re taught during childhood, and generally, the consequences directly correlate to our wrongdoings.
So why does that seem to change with this wave of cancel culture? An insensitive tweet or opposing opinion causes jobs to be lost, friendships demolished, and people to become social pariahs. But is that helping the root problem? Is that a consequence in direct relation? Are we learning and growing and using that opportunity as a stepping stone to creating a better future?
Restorative justice has appeared in written sources since the first half of the nineteenth century [x], but Alberta Englash described three different approaches to justice in 1977:
"retributive justice", based on punishment;
"distributive justice", involving therapeutic treatment of offenders;
"restorative justice", based on restitution with input from victims and offenders.
restorative justice is a way of dealing with crime that emphasizes taking responsibility for the effect of your crime on others, and trying to do something that makes things better for the victims. [ X ]
This form of justice poses the question: what if we met the offense with forgiveness, kindness, and education? What if, instead of nailing them to the post, so to speak, we gave appropriate consequences to their actions? Gave them tools to learn why what they did was wrong, welcomed them back into the society with open arms, and grew together.
Even as children, when someone is being a bully or cruel, we’re often asked to wonder if they have a reason. If they’re bullied in their own homes and are lashing out, if they feel bad about themselves, etc. It can be an instinct to hurt when we’ve been hurt.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t punish people who are in the wrong. But to pick out the appropriate punishment that could still benefit everyone. Forgiving also doesn’t mean forgetting.
Restorative justice is not a substitute for retributive justice or just punishment; it is often a supplement to retributive justice to try to humanize punishment. [ X ]
For example: someone getting fired for a racially insensitive tweet.
Is the punishment in relation to the crime? Has the “bad guy” been taken care of? When we simply remove someone from the group, we are further ostracizing them and not fixing the real issue. The issue is a lack of understanding, education, compassion. A better “punishment” would be their employer sending them to seminars on race or assigning classes. Then, the offender can learn in a healthy way that moves everyone forward.
The goal should be focusing on the oneness of society. Our togetherness is what has kept us alive since the dawn of time. The further we push people away whom we don’t agree with, the further apart we become.
And haven’t we always been an ever-learning, ever-changing society?
At one point we thought the Earth was flat, we knew nothing about the stars– we have come so far and one of the main ways we’ve done that is to ask questions. Challenging our way of thinking helps us advance! When we close ourselves off to the opinions of others, we close ourselves off to growth.
In our culture, reconciliation is often impossible because one side is hellbent on proving that it is right and the other side wrong. Archbishop Tutu’s vibrant sense of restorative justice might help Americans grapple with two problems in society today: the soul-destroying focus on punishing others, including the over-incarceration of people of color, and the temptation to wipe out enemies through the means of cancel culture. [ X ]
Our goal should never be to “cancel” someone or to essentially sweep the problem under the rug and forget about it. When we do that we are being just as cruel as the “offending” person. And, as the saying goes: