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Promoting previously unthinkable ways — Some restorative learning tasks in Northern Ireland.

Wilson, Derek A.
June 4, 2015

Source: (2010) Paper prepared for ESRC Core Group on Restorative Approaches in Schools, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, June 2010.

The restorative task in Northern Ireland is deeply entwined with civic, public and political life and the extent to which we can acknowledge our violent past, permit ourselves to take risks, meet in a human manner and discount apparently rational reasons we have been given to distrust others. It is to transgress the historical boundaries of asymmetric relationships with state authority and the more recent conflicted history of deep mutual antagonism in our midst and let the reconciling part in each of us fly more freely, without being smothered by the politics of reason, important though politics is (See Wright, 1987, xi-xv). In Northern Ireland so many of one’s friends and significant others are members of one’s own cultural, political or religious traditions and the pressure on more newly arrived citizens is to follow this pattern also. These patterns, aligned with an historical ambivalence to violence that has excused ‘my violence as provoked’ but has rejected ‘your violence as ‘unacceptable’, now means that the restorative task is about opening people up to trust those they have previously seen as ‘the enemy’ and about establishing agreed public institutions that serve all equitably and new and agreed law and order structures that effectively criminalise violence and end any ambivalence about it. Restoring an openness to those previously seen as my enemy in an ethnic frontier area as well as an openness to those who are new citizens, demands that: citizenship, not group identity, is established as the primary point of identification; people find relationships and civic and political structures that enable all to deal more openly with the legacy of the past; core values are established at the heart of public and civic life about treating one another equitably, appreciating the diversity each brings and promoting our mutual interdependence (Eyben et al, 1997);and that public, civic and political society spaces empower people to create a more civil society. The restorative task is to empower the voices and actions of people of all ages who wish to take risks, equipping them with the knowledge that virulent circles of pessimism, avoidance, communal deterrence and local essentialism can be dissolved through building ease with different others, supporting people in making change a lasting reality and in promoting commitments between people and groups that establish and sustain ‘process-structures’ within the society that address “both the symptoms and causes of historic polarisation…support constructive change…and bring together strategic, often improbable, alliances’ (Lederach,2007)” The restorative task is not just one for children and young people but for all ages and institutions. The need for citizenship education for children and young people needs couched within a wider inter- generational commitment to see one another as equal citizens of one place and not primarily as members of opposed identity groups. Building a more restorative culture in society is to: build a new practice that works critically and reflectively within existing traditions and institutions; enable people to transgress traditional boundaries and meet; support existing organisations re-envision their role in the light of a new and agreed political dispensation; and set free initiatives that are transformative because of their inclusive structures or the focus of their work. There is a Madagascan image that eggs, once hatched, soar (Atran, 2010). Reconciliation practice over many years has been incubating relationships between unexpected people so that they, with others, can soar above distrust and fear. It is important that these relationships are now used in the practical task of restoring equity, promoting trust and securing agreed, commonly owned and non-partisan civic, public and political structures within which people of all ages can move more freely and at ease with different others. (author’s abstract)


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