Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right. – Jane Goodall
At the ‘heart’ of restorative dialogue is the human heart-zone. We use the language of the heart metaphorically when we speak about emotional connections or disconnections, and there is a good reason for this: our physical hearts are truly affected by harms and conflicts. Stress raises our blood pressure and our hearts pound faster. Our breathing also tenses up. We literally heat up.
Human conflict is inevitable; it is part of our social world. Friction happens when two things rub against each other in opposite directions. The same can happen between people or groups. This rubbing, on a deeper energetic level, affects human hearts and lungs. From this rubbing, an extra charge of negativity is loosed into the air as when storm clouds rub against each other. Reflexively we protect ourselves.
How we respond makes all the difference in the world! We can either lessen the friction or magnify it. The relational rubbing between us and another can generate more internal rubbing within our own thoughts and feelings. We stay awake at night, mulling over every detail in the head-zone, feeling in the right and feeling slighted by others. But if we are completely honest, we know our hearts are overburdened, hurt, or ill-at-ease, and we want the rubbing to cease. We want peace of mind.
One way to understand conflict is that it stems from the disturbance of unresolved or unhealed spots within people.
Now here’s the rub. When we are stirred up or affected by a conflict with another or by a harm caused by another, the heated friction we feel does not exist in isolation with that single incident. It is often linked to a thread of past irritations or hurts that can sometimes regroup within ourselves, prompting a response that may seem, to others, quite out of proportion to the present situation. How then do we find a way forward with ourselves and with others?
Continue reading The Heart of Restorative Dialogue by Ted Lewis
When we have heart-to-heart conversations either directly with another or with the help of a facilitator, we do it because we took a calculated risk that moving toward greater vulnerability will result in a greater good for ourselves. We sense that moving from protectiveness to openness is in our best interest. We do this not only for our own peace of mind but at some degree for the peace of the relationship. To coexist with the other, things need to be made right, lest more problems surface.
The container of a restorative dialogue process is strong enough to allow the hard things of the past to be aired. Altogether, it empowers people to…
share their stories and feelings
listen and learn new information
be heard and be understood
make better sense out of the senseless
be acknowledged and validated
express ownership and apology
humanize the other person
give assurances of a better future
determine mutual, practical agreements
strengthen the relationship
All of this boils down to the meeting of human needs. When needs are not met, it is hard to regain trust in the other person and to move forward together. Restorative dialogue, when it goes well, helps people to fully discuss all matters of the past and present so they can easily shift toward the future. It is hard to find solutions for the future when you are still emotionally stuck in the past! Therefore, the outline of a restorative dialogue process ensures that…
Read an article by Betty Pries: “Courageous Conversations in Churches: Where Communication Skills and Self-Transformation Meet”
Models of Dialogue
What are models of dialogue that can be used for peacemaking within church communities?
Some of these models can be helpful in the prevention realm where topical discussions serve to build community and strengthen relationships. These meetings help to normalize church cultures of respect, listening, no gossiping, apology, forgiveness, and so forth.
When there is need for a responsive intervention to a conflict or harming situation, these models routinely involve more of a formal peacemaking process over time which are led by trained facilitators and involve separate preparation meetings with key persons involved.
What do all peacemaking dialogue processes have in common?
- trained facilitators, often in pairs
- preparation of parties prior to joint dialogue
- commitment to confidentiality by all
- group approved ground-rules of respect
- space for full storytelling and full emotions
- invitation for regrets and hurts to be named
- meeting needs of people being heard
- frequent opportunities for responses to others
- support people are present and pre-approved
- consensual agreements of reparation or settlement
- frameworks for implementation and follow-up
- closure event to benchmark completion
As long as facilitators lead from the heart, and participants speak and listen from the heart, a gathered group will typically progress well through three main discussion areas:
- impacts or interests*
*Restorative dialogue that is primarily addressing the harm done will focus more on the impacts of that harm upon all people involved. A dispute resolution process, when two parties evenly clash over a matter, will help both sides identify their deepest interests. When discussion in the first two areas are full and satisfactory to both sides, a shift point generally happens thereafter, allow then for people to discuss future matters to resolve things.
Other Conversation Partners
Realistically, it is not always possible or wise to have direct conversation with another part where layers of mistrust have resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But that doesn’t mean there still can’t be healing conversation. Many people find it helpful to meet with other conversation partners in a facilitated process that holds space for deep sharing, deep listening, and for people to be deeply heard. This kind of intentional restorative process helps to “revisit the past in order to put the past to rest,” thereby giving greater closure to situations that often captivate people to the past.
Dual Solidarity in Biblical Perspective
As discussed in the article The Heart of Restorative Dialogue, the Bible reveals a unique “dual solidarity” with both victimized and offending people. Harmed ones and harming ones are both dignified in profound ways; God extends rich and caring relationship to both. This perspective informs the Bible’s view of the human condition. Everyone sins and yet everyone has been sinned-upon. We are responsible for our own actions and yet we are responsible for others, too.
The nexus of human victimization and human perpetration is in the heart-zone. In the same way that actual victims and offenders of a crime come together for heart-felt, healing conversation, so it is with every person who is brave enough to let their inner victim speak with their inner offender. This is where healing and formation converge. This is where conversion gets its life-juice.
In this complexified view (which removes all finger-pointing), we begin to see the intersectionality of all disrespectful behaviors with histories of pain. If you think about where one’s sinning stems from, is sin ever isolated from one’s patterned responses to conflict and harm that are stirred up by unhealed pain from the past? Is it possible that one thing that unites all humanity is that all of our offending and defending actions spring out of a deeper reservoir of unhealed pain for which other people also bear some responsibility? Are we not all, at some level, a combination of victim survivor and habitual offender?
Once we recognize that under all human sin is human pain, we begin to see the cyclical nature of conflicts and harms. Those cycles are so difficult to step out of; people in the recovery world, however, know this very well. They understand how their own destructive behaviors are enmeshed with earlier experiences of victimization, either at the hands of others or themselves. By allowing their inner offender and inner victim to have open dialogue with each other, they can begin to take steps on the road to healing and restoration.
It is worth noting that Jesus’ ministry can be seen as having two main realms of work: a healing realm and a formation realm. In this we see his priorities revolving around processes to make people whole and processes to help people grow. He knew the human condition well enough, and he understood the social and relational aspect of our condition. How interesting that these align with the restorative blending of healing and accountability, both of which need each other for people to have meaningful dialogue!
Watch a short inspiring video that shows the link between macro and micro conflicts: