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A relational vision of justice

December 22, 2011

This relational understanding of human beings challenges the prevailing story of who we are, how we are connected, and what we need and deserve from one another. This prevailing story, which underlines many of our social and political institutions and systems, is that of an independent, self-sufficient individual who seeks protection and security in rights that hold others at bay; who seeks safety in a justice system that lays blame and punishes the individual at fault; who finds success by pulling themselves up by their boot straps; and who sees freedom as acting without the involvement or interference of others. 

But we know from experience that this is not who we are, not how we live and not what we need to flourish and be well. RJ is grounded in a different story of human beings: a story that resonates because it fits with what we know of ourselves and the world. Starting from a view of human beings as relational does not mean that relationships are necessarily to be valued, promoted or protected; that we should always seek happy endings where everyone hugs and makes up. A relational approach recognizes that relationships just are–for good or for bad we live in relationship. 

This starting point raises a central question: what qualities of relationship do we require in order to promote and protect individual flourishing and wellbeing? This is the central question of justice re-visioned relationally. The goal of justice is to achieve, protect and maintain just social relations. We know the basic requirements of such relationship from our experience of relationship that is harmful (marked by oppression, violence, abuse r neglect, etc.). From this knowledge we can derive the character of just social relationship. I refer to this as “equality of relationship” and by this I mean relationship in which the parties accord one another equal respect, concern and dignity. 

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