Seeking 'greater ... trust in conflict': A few words with Gandhi Institute director

Seeking 'greater ... trust in conflict': A few words with Gandhi Institute director

Today at the I Hotel and Conference Center, KIT MILLER, director of New York's M.K. Gandhi Institute, will lead a professional development program for teachers.

The topic: how to implement relationship-based systems that focus less on punishing wrong and more on repairing damage — otherwise known as restorative justice or practices.

It's a subject the 25-year veteran of work in the nonviolence field is an expert on and chatted about Monday — finish-this-sentence style — with staff writer Lyndsay Jones.

In my own life, restorative practices have made me feel ... a lot more aerodynamic when it comes to conflicts and problems. I'm not as afraid to have them. When you have a greater sense of trust in conflict, it bumps up your creativity.

To those who say it's a system that's soft on discipline, I say ... it sounds like it really matters to you that we be as effective as possible if we're dealing with people who might really cause harm at some point in their lives, and you want to make sure that we're doing the very best we can to prevent them from becoming the kind of person who would do harm.

I'm 100 percent with you — that's what I want, too: communities where people feel safer and communities where people don't have to be exiled for that to happen. Once that slippery slope starts, I don't know where it ends. The exile can only become more and more expensive.

I think that we have to try with people before we decide they have to go in exile. Most kids who we call troublemakers are often emerging from certain sets of social circumstances that it's not their fault — there's stuff that's happened. We want to give those people a shot first.

I also want to say that some of the most visionary leaders in history have been troublemakers.

What people misunderstand about restorative practices is ... mostly we talk about it as a response to conflict and harm. But ... we try to put 80 percent of our time into community-building and getting to know each other and 20 percent on the response.

I think if there was an understanding of that, it would make more sense because then we could see, 'Oh, I want my kid to be someone who is able to listen.' All you have to think about is: Does this transfer to life outside of school? Of course.

Most parents would probably not mind having children who were good listeners and empathetic. In an educational situation, everything that happens can be a teaching moment. In a school setting, we know that learning and mistakes go together, so why would that not be true in the learning that takes place, even socially?

If kids can't learn how to be in relationships to each other, in the school setting, where are they ever going to learn it?

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