Responding to the study, some restorative justice researchers recalled uncovering data as far back as the early days of victim offender mediation that may have suggested this link between restorative justice and gravity. In his first studies, Mike Umbright reported that victims used phrases like “before, I felt a great heaviness” and “I feel much lighter now that we have met” to describe how the encounter had changed them. “I had always thought they were speaking metaphorically,” said Umbright. “Now I wonder if they meant it literally.”
In recent years there have been reports of Harold Zair levitating while making presentations on restorative justice. Zair himself had discounted those rumors on the grounds that there were no photographs of this happening. “Unless something appears in a photograph, how can we say it is real?” he once told a reporter. However, late yesterday afternoon he did agree that the new study’s findings might require him to do further thinking. “I changed my mind about retribution,” he said, “and I am certainly open to being shown that I levitate.”
The form of the encounter appears to be a factor in the strength of the inversion. Using data from previously published research by Paddy McCold, Shernan and String found that conferences have a greater impact than victim offender dialogue, but that circles produce the greatest gravitational inversion of all.”
This has created a stir in Europe where public officials are just becoming familiar with conferencing. Yves O. Airtson, currently directing an EU-funded study on conferencing, was pleased.
“This virtually guarantees that we will get another grant to study circles,” he remarked.
Until the study was released, there had been no suggestion that people in the geographic vicinity of a restorative encounter, but unrelated to and unaware of that encounter, would be affected by it in any way.
Shernan and String discovered the phenomenon by accident. They had arranged for a graduate student to go door-to-door and, using Claaasssen's J-scale, ask residents to weigh competing views of justice. The student misunderstood and instead used highly-calibrated scales to weigh the residents. In evaluating the data, String noticed an anomaly in the results and in a flash of insight posited that this might be because of restorative encounters underway nearby.
Shernan and String decided to test this intuition by organizing similar weigh-ins in surrounding neighbourhoods whenever restorative encounters took place.
They instructed another group of students to conduct similar research in a part of town where it was known that no restorative encounters ever take place. “This use of a control group demonstrated that no unrelated phenomena had coincidentally caused town-wide gravitational inversions at the time of the encounters,” they said.
Further research is needed to determine the duration of the effect and also whether frequency of restorative encounters influences either the intensity or duration of the inversion.
The practical implications of this research are just beginning to be explored. “This will certainly help in overcoming the NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome,” explained Elisa Ray. “Once people understand that restorative justice programmes in their neighbourhoods produce immediate weight loss, we will have communities begging for it.”
The obesity-fighting possibilities struck a responsive chord in Kris Major as well. “I’m always looking for ways to fund my restorative justice agency,” she said. “I’m thinking we can call it the Restorative Justice DietSM with the slogan: Feel lighter, be lighter.” Major plans to charge community representatives to participate in circles. “We can certainly cover operating costs this way,” she said, “and maybe even make a profit.”
“Not so fast,” emailed a concerned Load Wellgrave. “There are problems with applying the term “restorative justice” to uses outside the criminal justice system. This unnecessarily limits restorative justice to restorative dialogue and it waters down our understanding of justice. How can we speak of a just diet?”
A third potential application lies in the emerging field of green technology. “I have used restorative justice to address intractable environmental disputes,” said Judge Mack L. Ray of New Zealand. “However, this study opens up new possibilities. People who levitate leave no footprint at all. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that they can have no carbon footprint either." The judge is already seeking funding to determine the precise number of simultaneous restorative encounters needed to cause surrounding people to levitate.
“We will begin with sheep,” the judge said. “New Zealand has 400 million more sheep than people, and no one will notice if we accidentally lift some of them beyond the stratosphere.”
Note: No sheep were injured in the preparation of this RJOB entry.