It's also challenging to make such a shift. Where to begin? I used to think the beginning was to have a conversation about what we wanted - what works? what doesn't work? what do we want to see happen? You know, gather up a group of interested people together, and have the conversation. Who wouldn't want restorative? Such a great set of values and principles, so many great processes and practices! In casual conversation, people really like the idea. So, after years of engaging with this why has so little changed in practice? Because I was missing a more preliminary consideration, an earlier beginning point.
Yes, just like how in the classroom I didn't see the kid right in the front of me raising his hand - teachers, you know what I mean- I missed something very obvious. And haven't been working smart.
(Some of you will now begin to smile (without condescension, I hope) and shake your heads to read about this great discovery that you've been aware of all along. You have been wiser than I, and I beg your patience.)
Community. Holy cow, people, just because we're still bumping into each other on occasion or even a lot, let's not assume we're in one!
Here in the U.S., where I live, our whole notion and understanding of "community" needs work. There's a difference between the nature of community and the nature of a network of individuals and we need to discern that. It's quite tricky in a culture like ours where our governance is still organized around individual freedom while our personal and land-based social connections - which nourish accountability and responsibility - have waned. We're sort of held together now only through this value of individual freedom. And it's so pervasive, we might well use the word "community" for a group from which we come and go at will without (much?) concern for how that impacts others. Just drop in! Or out! Whatever! Take what you like and leave the rest! And in these days of increasingly internet mediated interaction it's even easier to do that because we're not going to run into those people at the food market, or in the town square, or anywhere else on the land.
And we feel that, right? Some of us long for the kind of community where we belong, everyone matters, and is included. Where we understand and are understood, where we each take responsibility, and make decisions together without violence. Restorative stuff.
The challenge, I think, is that people (like me) who have been benefitted/protected and/or privileged by the dominant system - i.e. much more likely to get stuff without having to do anything other than having been born the right color, comply, and not make (visible) waves - are unlearned about what it takes to live true community, and mis-take other social forms for the real McCoy. Some people know this. Some don't.
For those of us who need a refresher, let's look more closely at this description, from the article Using Emergence to Scale Social Innovation by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze: "...It's important to note that networks are only the beginning. They are based on self-interest--people usually network together for their own benefit and to develop their own work. Networks tend to have fluid membership; people move in and out of them based on how much they personally benefit from participating.... [In Communities of Practice CoP's] [p]eople share a common work and realize there is great benefit to being in relationship. They use this community to share what they know, to support one another, and to intentionally create new knowledge for their field of practice. These CofPs differ from networks in significant ways. They are communities, which means that people make a commitment to be there for each other; they participate not only for their own needs, but to serve the needs of others. In a community of practice, the focus extends beyond the needs of the group. There is an intentional commitment to advance the field of practice, and to share those discoveries with a wider audience. They make their resources and knowledge available to anyone , especially those doing related work...."
So, that. Figuring out in what ways we are and are not organizing ourselves as true community. It's hard to make progress toward creating a more healthy community, when group norms are unexamined and are more in the nature of a network. My experience is that people - me included, I'm people - have passed over this consideration and then gotten stuck. Really stuck. And confused. Some people "committed" and others not. Some thinking, "How could they?" and others thinking, "I never committed [to that]!" Ugh. Painful.
(Sigh. Yes. The other "C" word. Commitment.)
We've got to take the time to look at how we organize ourselves. It is not community just because we call it that! If we want to build community, we need to know what we're aiming for. Don't assume everyone is on the same page. I'm thinking these questions, taken from the article, above, are a good guide. We need to ask, "What commitment do we make to be there for each other?" "Am I participating to serve the needs of others as well as my own? How?" "Does our focus extend beyond the needs of this group? How?" At this level, restorative principles and some restorative process and practice do offer clues as to how to approach this dialogue.
And if we find out some or all of us are operating more like a network, then at least we know what we've got.
Once we have a community, maybe even just a tender sprout, we can go more deeply, asking: What does healthy look like? What kind of social system to we want to have? Restorative principles are a good guide for the nutrients we need. Restorative process and practice offer ways to put these into action in healthy ways, including ways to engage ongoingly with the question of how to live well together now as contemporary people.
Let's just not put the cart before the horse, or worse yet, forget the horse entirely.