Sunday, May 15, 2011

We as people

Recently there was a reported death (or assassination, as some saw it), that saw mixed emotions worldwide, some celebrated, some mourned, some called for revenge and some feared retribution. Most people who heard about this event have an opinion on it. Many of those also hold an opinion on where the actions that led to the death/assassination sit within (or outside of) international law. I am left wondering what we as people are doing? I also wonder when will we start making positive and peaceful change in this world that we all share and what might that change look like?

We live in a world mostly full of punitive justice models. Models which focus on punishment as a means of addressing a ‘wrong’. Even moving beyond that, ‘frontier justice’ also springs to mind, where a person or people are judge, jury and executioner and a ‘fair’ hearing is not likely-very Wild West as the name suggests. Our justice models give us the foundation for our own moral compass- ‘If this is how the law operates then this is ‘ok’’. But is it? Do we need to re-envision what we think justice should look like?

I am sure that many alternatives currently exist, and that there are even more waiting to be imagined (for we are blessed with the ability to imagine and create- which we sometimes forgot). I wonder sometimes when it comes to ‘justice’, if our decisions and actions are driven by fear and closed hearts rather than by open hearts and minds.

One alternative to the punitive justice model that comes to mind is ‘restorative justice’. It is a model which focuses on the needs of the ‘victim’ and the ‘offender’. Both parties take part in the process of addressing the ‘wrong’. ‘Offenders’ are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and to understand what it was like for the ‘victim’ and apologise.  Trusty Wikipedia states that “Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability”. Compared to the punitive justice model, is the restorative justice model more in line with our civilised sensibilities? More in line with the type of society we wish to live within?

I can’t help but wonder why we still use archaic models of justice like the punitive one? Models that years ago sent people to jail, to a foreign land, or to the gallows for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving family… yes, this is the same model of justice that we use today, where the ‘punishment’ is seen to fit the ‘crime’. Don’t we want to work with ‘offenders’ and ‘victims’ to create positive change and reduce re-offending? Don’t we want ‘offenders’ to see ‘the error of their ways’ and be part of society once more?

My thoughts come back to the topic of death and killing. I see beyond the singular –victim-offender, and to the plural, to groups, states and countries. Where war is declared as a way to address or right a wrong, where it is seen to be an extension of justice. I am reminded of a touching scene in a Hollywood film called ‘The curious case of Benjamin Button’ in which a new clock is unveiled in a train station and as it starts to run backwards the clockmaker says that he made it that way ‘so that perhaps the boys that we lost in the war might stand and come home again. Home to farm, work and have children. To live long full lives. Perhaps my own son might come home again”.

Unfortunately we are not able to turn back time and bring back the dead, or right wrongs, so how do we reduce the need or the desire to do this? How do we create a future filled with understanding and compassion? A future free of violence and needless death. A future in which we do not need to wish our dead children, killed through war, back home. A future in which we have no need to wish our dead children to have lived long full lives?  

How do we create a peaceful future in which we do not fear retribution, in which we have no need to fear, because ‘victim’ and offender’ were all were involved in the process? How do we create a future in which our moral compasses are not pointing towards punishment, but instead point towards understanding, accountability, acceptance, peaceful change and inclusive outcomes? How do we create a future in which justice ‘restores’, rather than just punishes (and hopes that the punishment will be a deterrent)?

And more than this, when do we start making this change?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent posting and very profound questions, Matthew.

    Were you a philosophy major at Uni?