Restorative Activism – Podcast

restorativeactivismThis week on Peace Paradigm Radio, we speak with Scott Brown (activist, author, scholar, and co-founder of Colorado Center for Restorative Practices) about Restorative Activism and why systemic change begins with ourselves.

And on Nonviolence in the News we have positive updates about Campaign Nonviolence, Alliance for Peace, the struggles against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and mining at Oak Flats, and much more. Don’t miss it!

To listen to the entire show, see the audio toolbar toward the bottom of this page, or simply play it in a new window.

Here’s the full transcript of our Q&A with Scott Brown:

Stephanie Van Hook: We’re going to be getting more into that idea in this show today with our guest, Scott Brown, because he’s going to talk about restorative justice because can you develop an alternative to the military without having restorative justice be part of that solution. So I want to bring in Scott just very briefly so everybody can get to hear him before we take our mid-time break. Hi Scott, welcome to Peace Paradigm Radio.

Scott Brown: Thank you. I’m very happy to be with you.

Stephanie: So you’ve been listening to this conversation I hope a little bit. Can you talk about that idea just very briefly, the way that restorative justice would come into play when as —in this very, very big topic of replacing militarism. Can we replace militarism without another system—something like restorative justice?

Scott: That is a huge topic. Yeah. And it’s not even one I thought that much about. Most of my thinking about how to expand restorative justice beyond the justice system is beyond kind of smaller activist campaigns.

Stephanie: Beautiful, beautiful.

Scott: For example, in the book that I sent you all, towards the end of it I used restorative justice principles and practices in the context of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. What were the restorative justice response to that huge environmental catastrophe look like? And I think those principles are very applicable to even the military context. The principle of responsibility and respect and relationship and repairing the harm. Those are four of the five R’s or restorative justice. The fifth is reintegration where your “offender” is reintegrated back into the community. But those principles, those five R’s are so applicable. But it takes—the first step is the personal responsibility.

So taking responsibility for causing harm and having a process where that can really be addressed without shame and blame and punishment. So it’s a real stepping back from business as usual and the systems that we have that really revolve around violence in the form of shame and blame and punishment and we know that they’re not working and it’s going to be a huge step to really move in the direction of restorative justice. But I’m happy that you all are talking about restorative justice and I’m happy to talk with you about it today.

Michael Nagler: Good. Scott, I completely agree with you, but I think what’s keeping the present system in place is fear. I mean look what happened to Michael Dukakis when he wanted to be President of the United States. They worked up one case of a prisoner who had been let out, committed a murder, bam, he was finished. And that’s why we’re stressing that you need to have an alternative built before we can get rid of the present one.

Stephanie: Yeah, you know, and what I was thinking as—bringing you into this conversation, it’s such a—oh, it’s such a big question—was a little bit of fun on my part because I know that what we’re going to talk about today is the personal practice. It’s our relationships around this and it’s working on it at the individual level as much as possible. But Gandhi would say that whatever can work at the individual level, if it’s really going to work, it’s going to work everywhere. It’s going to work both individually, socially, and globally. Do you believe that?

Scott: Yeah, I believe it. And restorative justice is ready. It is up to the challenge. It’s use is far too limited even in the criminal justice system where there have been times when it’s been used in murder cases and it tends to be limited to lesser violations. You know, kids writing graffiti on a wall.

Stephanie: Yeah. You are listening to Peace Paradigm Radio and we are talking with Scott Brown who is an activist, author, mediator, it’s a Naropa University student. He’s going to talk to us today about using restorative justice to make our world a better place and how we do it. Because we hear this word, this idea, restorative justice – sounds okay. What do you mean by restorative justice and what brought you into it?

Scott: Justice was part of my education as a peacemaker. And it turned out to be a very important part of that education. And what I’m most interested in is this idea of taking the principles of restorative justice which by definition is somewhat limited to the criminal justice system and taking those principles and practices and applying them much more broadly. And I’m really intrigued by just the concept of restoration which according to my dictionary means to make firm again. So to me it speaks to the deep healing that need to happen before we get to a restorative society, a life affirming society, a nonviolent society.

Michael mentioned the fear as a root cause of so much and I couldn’t agree more. So to me that speaks to really this process of maturation that has to happen and that we’re involved in, this spiritual and psychological and ecological and interpersonal maturation that is what is going to get us to a point where we actually can use a process like restorative justice to resolve conflicts between nations.

Stephanie: So let me ask a question here because when I hear restorative justice and the concept of restoration versus maturation or even, you know, as maturation. And then I apply that against my experiences. And so one experience that I’m, you know, dealing with recently is an argument with a dear friend of mine and we had a very intense argument that feels a little bit like the relationship isn’t going to be the same after this argument. It’s changed. It’s transformed. As much as I would like a restoration to happen, I don’t think that it’s going – I don’t think it can be the same because there was something that matured in it. So can you talk about this idea of transformation versus restoration? Does restoration mean that everything is going to be the same again when we’re done with this process? What happens?

Scott: Absolutely not. When you enter, for example, a restorative justice process, sort of like engaging with a friend in a conflict, a dialog; there’s no predetermined outcome. There’s no guarantee that in a restorative justice that you’re actually going to get to an agreement that the “offender” is going to implement. It may blow up. It may blow up because of a lack of personal responsibility, a lack of respect, a lack of interpersonal skills. And so yeah, you know, sort of the flip of the coin in a personal dynamic such as you mentioned, I heard in there that the relationship was changed in kind of a negative way in this case.

Stephanie: Well, you know, I don’t want to say that it changed in a negative way. I think that it’s just – but it has changed and there’s this – coming at it with kind of an idealism that things can them be the same after you’ve gone through a transformative conflict and I think things aren’t going to be the same. And thinking about, for example, when you – in the preface to your manuscript, you talk about what kind of led into the path. And I was wondering if you would feel comfortable talking about that a little bit on the show?

Scott: Well, I would because we’re in this territory of interpersonal relationships. And I got married in my mid-40’s and we had a really good thing going and it turned out that I didn’t have the interpersonal skills even in my mid-40’s to negotiate conflict in the relationship. And it reminds me very much of my 15 years as professional environmental campaigner doing my best without any interpersonal skills or mindfulness practice or any kind of spiritual practice, anything to help me get me beyond the personal. And, you know, I did my best, but it took it’s tool.

Stephanie: That’s really interesting the way that you’re contrasting those. There you were involved and empathic about really big issues, but then when it came down to the personal, you found that you hadn’t developed that skill enough and that you see them as interconnected?

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. And the beauty of the divorce was it prompted me to do my work. And that’s what got me to Boulder and got me into a peacemaker training and eventually got me into Naropa and got me into restorative justice and I found a whole new path through that. I was – and it was particularly the interpersonal skills and tools that I learned that were the most poignant. Like I’m in my mid-40’s why didn’t anybody tell me this stuff before? It kind of boggles the mind. And I think a lot of kids these days are getting more basic tools than I got, but it’s a common story that in our culture we’re not getting really basic tools to help us navigate conflict which can be an incredible gift when and if it takes us deeper into relationship, deeper into connection with our own longings and needs, deeper into connection with the other’s longings and needs, and this felt experience of inter-being or radical inter-relatedness.

Michael: Scott, I would like to believe you that kids are better off than they were—and I think on the whole they would be were it not for the fact that there’s this been introduction of social media and devices. Stephanie was just sharing with me before we came on the show about a survey where the younger generation people, they knew very little about their own siblings, about their parents because they spent their time in front of those machines. But I wanted to touch back on one of the R’s if I may, the R of responsibility. I remember an episode that the U.S. Navy accidentally shot down—it was a destroyer, Vincennes, back in the 90s, I think. They shot down an Iranian airliner with 250 some people on board thinking that it was a spy plane of some kind.

The mistake was revealed and the head of the CIA at that point—I think that’s what he was—Richard Cheney. He said, “I don’t care what the facts are. I will never apologize for the American people.” And it struck me so forcibly that if you do not take responsibility you are on the slippery slope to violence. And the flip side of that, which I’d like your comment on, is that taking responsibility, if it’s done without the guilt trip that you were referring to earlier, being able – being emotionally strong enough to take responsibility is ennobling. It gives us agency. And one of the lies that we’re being told about ourselves as human beings is that we are helpless passive victims, so forth. And being able to take agency in both the good and the bad senses is the first step towards restoring the image of who we are. Can I get your thoughts on that, Scott?

Scott: Yeah, I love that. The image comes to mind of a spiral where we are engaged in a process of becoming more mature, more self-aware. And personal responsibility for me in my training and my personal experience, in my work, is absolutely fundamental. And yeah, there’s a synergy, there’s a life energy that flows in when—with that honesty and that responsibility. Yeah, there’s like a catalyzing of our humanity. So yeah, it’s absolutely essential. It’s the perfect litmus test in gauging whether a situation is right for responsibility or restorative process. And in your example, obviously there’s some groundwork that would need to be laid to get some responsibility and some accountability and some repair and some healing of that particular incident. And the government tends to be the perfect poster child along with individual politicians for lack of responsibility. We see it all the time, don’t we?
Michael: We sure do. In fact, as we’re discussing this I’m beginning to have a thought that it’s harder for nations to take responsibility than it is for individuals. It’s kind of a weakest link problem where you have to be able to persuade and strengthen the weakest members of your polity in order to make a statement like that, that we can take responsibility.

Scott: That makes total sense to me and that’s a very good observation.

Stephanie: Now I want to shift the conversation a little bit more about—so there you are, you are embarking on this path toward self healing, essentially. And you’re finding that your self-healing is interconnected with the healing of the world at the same time and that they’re working together. And as you’re going through this internal process, it’s something that I imagine that you’re also—that you go through daily now, but maybe with a little bit more practice, a little bit more experience underneath your belt, as they say. What are some of the ways, for example, that you learned to navigate and understand judgement and how judgment affects conflicts and can escalate them instead of deescalating them? Can you talk about recognizing judgment and how that plays out in conflict?

Scott: Yeah. And that is still, for me, such a work in progress. That’s definitely a piece of my work that I just know I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. The habitual knee-jerk response of judging, you know, judging somebody, judging a situation. You know, we really are still wired to be on the lookout for the tiger crouching in the bushes. So my practice is really around just noticing the judgment and taking a breath, allowing that gap between stimulus and response and just hanging out there for a little while and then challenging those thoughts—challenging myself with the thinking and asking myself what is it that I’m really needing here? What am I longing for? And this work around judgments is huge because I think it is so habitual.

Stephanie: You have this idea of the drama triangle, for example, and I think judgments come into that a lot. It seems somewhat of nonviolent communication practice, in a way, of understanding how you’re hearing judgments and how you’re giving them as well. Can you talk about that more?

Scott: Yeah. And then the really deep piece of this is to understand in a really felt sense kind of way that any judgment that I have about another person or even myself is fundamentally not true. It’s typically going to be my own projection, me making a problem of somebody else. It’s going to be a way of limiting them and making a boundary between me and them. And the same goes with my negative self talk about myself—very limiting, not really appreciating the fullness of who I am, and, you know the amazing thing is it just keeps happening. So it really is an ongoing part of the process and the path and another reason why I like to talk and think about it all as maturation, as growing up.

Stephanie: Yeah. For those who are just tuning in, we’re talking with Scott Brown who is with the Path of Restoration and the co-founder of the Colorado Center for Restorative Practices. And he’s studied eco-psychology and transpersonal psychology at Naropa and he has written a book called, “The Path of Restoration: Living into the Truth of Inter-being.” And he is talking to us right now about the way that judgments play out in terms of escalating our conflicts and how we can get to the heart of what the conflict is about by understanding judgments. And he said something about understanding that our judgments are often if not fundamentally untrue because they’re projection of our own fleeting states of mind usually projecting in the idea of a boundary or danger.

And what I’m understanding is that you’re getting a deep image, a more expansive idea of who we are as human beings and just the way that judgments create boundaries and keep us from realizing who we really are. So you said, you know, being with the judgment, being in that space for a bit, that that can be a very uncomfortable place to be. And when I think also about the question of where did these judgments come from? Where does this negative self talk that then we project onto others and the need to defend ourselves from others so much. Where does it come from? And it has to come from our environment, you know? This stuff doesn’t originate in us out of nowhere. It comes from the relationships that have been in our lives until now, right? It’s a reminder to be aware of how important and how impactful in the lives of other people wherever we have to be standing in the world, whether we’re holding space for expansiveness or creating a space where we’re casting judgment and blame on others and then helping to reinforce the negative inner voice. Can you say a little something more about that?

Scott: Yes. It’s a reminder, isn’t it, about how deep the wound is, about how deep the belief in separateness is. And the thing that I—the main take away from my years of educating myself as a peacemaker was that that belief in separateness is really the root cause of not only the external crisis that we’re confronted of, but also so much of our personal suffering and the shame that comes from our culture. I know shame is a really big part of my personal wounding. And I don’t even so much know where it came from specifically, but I just know that I drop into that place of shame and insecurity and feeling like a victim was more the old story that was kind of fueling me in my activist years. But the wound is deep and our judgments are almost not constant, but a persistent reminder of how deep that wound is.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Scott: That the healing path has so much to do with our personal work and our personal healing.

Michael: Scott, I feel that what you’re calling a belief in separateness is deeper than a belief. It’s like an existential posture that we have in the world, that we’re seeing the world through a distorted lens and when it reaches the point where we have gotten the feeling that we can hurt another person and that will help ourselves, then we’re really in trouble because then it becomes a vicious circle. But let me ask you this and hold onto your immediate reaction and let me you ask you this; isn’t there a kind of subtlety about judgment and aren’t we suffering from the fact that the word is not very precise. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I was being looked at as a prospective juror one time here in Marin County and I was almost empanelled and the judge said, “Anyone have any final comments?” And I said in perfect honesty, “I have a little bit of a problem sitting in judgment on people.” Well, if the prosecuting – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man move so fast. The prosecuting attorney leapt to his feet and said, “The people thank and excuse Professor Nagler.” I wasn’t too disappointed, okay. But as I was leaving the judge said–because evidently he had not liked that remark. He had really kind of taken it personally. He said, “So, Professor Nagler, you don’t like to use your judgment?” And I said–though I didn’t get a chance to–I’m not in a position to argue with him. But I mumbled something about, “Sir, that wasn’t what I said.” I use my judgment every minute of the day, but that’s different from “sitting in judgment on people.”

Stephanie: Michael, I wonder if you have any etymology for us here, as a professor would?

Michael: I’ll have to ponder that one. It’s a Latin root.

Stephanie: All right, it might come to you right when the show is over.

Michael: Yeah, as we’re walking down the steps. Oh, wait a minute, I remember that one.

Stephanie: That’s right. So Scott, we have a few more minutes left. Let’s talk about restorative activism because it’s kind of said, in a way, to think about the way that activism is perceived as kind of being out there in the world without self knowledge, but how important that self knowledge is and how we all need this healing and how this healing can actually make things better, not just for ourselves, for others. So talk a little bit about what that means –restorative activism.

Scott: What that means for me is a type and approach to activism that is healing for the activist, healing internally. It’s meeting needs to be engaged and to protect what I love and to express my fullness. My discriminating wisdom which would be, you know somewhat synonymous with judgment. And it’s healing for the world because it’s actually putting life affirming values into practice through the activism. So it’s an approach that is consistently nonviolent to the best of our ability- conscious. Where as we move, we have some awareness about what’s happening in our own bodies, our thoughts, our triggers. And another aspect that I think is really important is that it has some focus on root causes. I don’t think our activism can be very satisfying ultimately if it doesn’t somehow address what we believe whatever it is the individual believes to be the root cause or associated with the root cause. So for me, that’s the belief in separateness–which I agree with Michael is–I mean it’s not even conscious it’s no deep.

So that’s the gist of restorative activism is that kind of approach and the consistent nonviolence, the prioritizing relationships are two aspects of it that kind of get to the heart of it, I think.

Stephanie: Scott, you really sound like somebody who’s speaking from experience on a number of levels from being an activist for so many–a standard activists for so many years and then somebody as well who’s taken a path of searching–of inner searching/inner seeking or what you’re calling, “living into–the truth of inter-being.” Thank you so much for joining on Peace Paradigm Radio. If somebody wants to get in touch with you to learn about your life-coaching skills or restorative justice, quickly, how can they do that?

Scott: I would say the best way is


Scott: Yeah, and thank you so much. I really appreciate being on your show.

Stephanie: Great. And we hope that we can have you back one day. Michael?

Michael: [Udex] is the Latin word for judge and it basically means to make a decision.

Stephanie: Okay, all right. So any last thoughts Michael, if you want to summarize in 30 seconds what you feel like you got out of the show today? I will play a little bit background music while you do that. Off you go.

Michael: I really that he brought out very beautifully the necessity of personal change as we enter into changing the world. It’s a cliché. We hear a lot about it, but I can’t think we can’t be reminded of it too often.

Stephanie: Thanks everybody for joining us on Peace Paradigm Radio. See you again in a couple of weeks. Bye-bye.