10 ways to live restoratively

1.    Take relationships seriously, envisioning yourself in an interconnected web of people, institutions and the environment.

2.    Try to be aware of the impact – potential as well as actual – of your actions on others and the environment.

3.    When your actions negatively impact others, take responsibility by acknowledging and seeking to repair the harm – even when you could probably get away with avoiding or denying it.  (To craft a letter of apology, see the Apology Letter website developed by Loreen Walker and Ben Furman.)

4.    Treat everyone respectfully, even those you don’t expect to encounter again, even those you feel don’t deserve it, even those who have harmed or offended you or others.

5.    Involve those affected by a decision, as much as possible, in the decision-making process.

6.    View the conflicts and harms in your life as opportunities.

7.    Listen, deeply and compassionately, to others, seeking to understand even if you don’t agree with them. (Think about who you want to be in the latter situation rather than just being right.)

8.    Engage in dialogue with others, even when what is being said is difficult, remaining open to learning from them and the encounter.

9.    Be cautious about imposing your “truths” and views on other people and situations.

10.  Sensitively confront everyday injustices including sexism, racism and classism.

I would welcome additional suggestions as well as comments on these ten.

The chart below explores some implications of five key restorative justice principles for criminal justice and for restorative living.

Restorative Justice Principles adapted by Catherine Bargen (2008) from Susan Sharpe, Restorative Justice: A Vision for Healing and Change. Thanks to Catherine for her suggestions on the above as well.

Principle of Restorative Justice

Application for Criminal Justice

Application for Restorative Living

Invite full participation and consensus.

Victims, offenders and the community have a voice in responding to criminal harm, with as much agreement as possible in what the outcome should look like.

All those who feel they have a stake in a situation of harm or conflict can be invited to participate in dialogue around the issues and have a voice in the outcomes or decisions made. Power imbalances are noted and addressed as much as possible to achieve consensus.

Heal what has been broken.

When a crime is committed, the need for healing inevitably arises. This may take the form of emotional healing (for victims, and for offenders), relationship healing, and/or reparation of property damage.

Our everyday interactions and situations can result in hurtful words and actions, which may create feelings of injustice or imbalance in our relationships. As much as possible, the restorative approach seeks to bring those hurts to light and create space for healing and reparation.

Seek full and direct accountability.

Offenders need to take responsibility for their own actions and choices. They are given the opportunity to explain their behaviour and fulfill the obligations created from their behaviour directly to the people they have harmed.

When harm occurs, we can nurture an environment where we are encouraged to take ownership for our own role in hurtful behaviour or abuses of power. Living restoratively means respectfully expecting oneself and others to be accountable for our actions in ways that are fair and reasonable.

Reunite what has been divided.

Victims of crime often experience a sense of isolation from the community, as do offenders. While the reasons for this isolation may differ between these two groups, processes that allow for reintegration need to be sought in the wake of a crime for all that have been affected. Such processes can create a renewed sense of wholeness and closure, as well as a sense of reintegration into the community.

Hurtful or damaging behaviour in our places of interaction can create feelings of isolation and of being an outcast. It can result in individuals taking sides and developing an “us”/ ”them” mentality. As much as possible, restorative living aims to take stock of where divisions have occurred in our communities and work toward balance, understanding and reconciliation.

Strengthen the community to prevent future harms.

A justice process that is restorative will focus not only on the details of the crime at hand, but what the systemic causes of crime are in the community and how they can be addressed. In this way, a healthier and safer community is created for all, not just those wanting to be protected from crime.

Most communities can ultimately use situations of harm to learn, grow and change where necessary. When living restoratively, we can help illuminate systemic injustice and power imbalances. We then advocate for positive changes in order to make the community a healthier and more just place for all.

26 comments on “10 ways to live restoratively”

  1. This is great Howard. Going to post it on both blogs!! Thanks! And Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. I found these very challenging (in a good way!) The particular tension for me is working with 1-9 whilst seeking to do 10 🙂

  3. Vicki Sanderford O'Connor says:

    From my perspective, living a restorative lifestyle – not for the fainthearted – is all there is. I aim to practice these prinicples in all my affairs and when I fall short, there is a vehicle by which I can make my amends and come back into right relationship with all that is. And for that I am Thankful.

  4. Posted these over at the Restorative Theology blog. Thanks, Howard! As I say over there, I’d love to start articulating a positive Christian theology that picks up on these restorative values and principles; I see so, so much overlap and great potential for mutually reinforcing dialog.

  5. These principles strike me as wonderful and, on their own, intimidating. I think that we can’t make this kind of restoration happen simply by the force of our wills. I think that we need to be connected to deep sources of inspiration and guidance to allow these things to happen, through grace. The missing principle for me is something like AA’s 11th step. Here’s a rewording of it, using some rj-ish language:

    * Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with the interconnected source of life, praying only for knowledge of how we can be an instrument of healing and restoration and for the power to carry that out.

    With that said, I think the practical practice of these 10 principles can lead us to humble recognitions of our individual limitations, and a desire to surrender and move with a source of life beyond ourselves.

  6. Andy B. says:

    With regard to number 10, I’m sure that you mean “classism” not “classicism”. While one can look upon Greek and Roman aesthetics with a critical eye, it seems a bit of a stretch to class them with sexism and racism!

  7. Howard Zehr says:

    Good point – thanks for catching that. It could open up a whole new line of inquiry, though!

  8. Charito Calvachi-Mateyko says:

    Dear Howard:

    The mentioning of community as esential part of RJ can be seen in your 10 point, however, as I see it from what I believe is a collective society perspective, two things are missing in some way, maybe because I don’t find expressed language about it: 1. That we all are responsable as well for the wrongdoing of others. Even though the person who commited an act is the one that will learn more from this, we also need to learn from it. 2. The roots of crime, some of which come from economic violence in our system, is our responsibility. They exist in our name because they are a social construct. We all maintain them. Just as slavery was maintained by all.

  9. Matthew says:


    I love the thought and perspective going into these ten ways to live restoratively. The three values you speak of are prevalent in these practices.

    I also appreciate Charito’s comment above, as our culture and society is a collection of everyone’s actions and thoughts. However, I feel these restorative practices do pay attention to the collective piece in that it all begins with ourselves. For our self, is the only true place we can control.

    It also rings in parallel with Roger Schwartz’s group guidelines. There is such similarity with what many are doing to align organizations and executives with principles through consultation. People like Roger, the Covey’s, and many, many others are teaching businesses how to be more “restorative” without the same verbiage.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Matthew Kuehlhorn

  10. David says:

    These are wonderful.

    The Apology Letter website seems badly broken, however.

  11. Marie Richardson says:

    As an Irish woman I see by weaving these ‘ten ways to live restoratively’ with Catherine’s ‘RJ Principles’ we have a source for hope at this challenging social, spiritual and economic time. I am reassured by our interconnectedness.

    Clearly there is a way forward for both Church and State which invites congruent engagement in ‘putting right the wrongs’.

    Who should I talk to to engage in this process? Maybe Brian Gumm has some ideas?

  12. Hi Howard, David et al,

    Thank you for your work in preparing this great blog and list Howard.

    And to you David for letting us know http://www.apologyletter.org was having problems. It is repaired now and we hope it is useful to people. Not only does it include an opportunity for people who have hurt others, to develop a meaningful apology, but it now includes a program for people victimized by wrongs to “imagine” an apology and benefit from developing one even if the people who did the hurting does not give one.

    aloha, Lorenn

  13. JustPeace says:

    Thanks Howard…these are great! We reposted this over on the (brand new and just launched) JustPeace website: http://www.justpeaceumc.org

  14. Pingback: JustPeace
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  16. Federico Reggio says:

    Thanks, Howard: I am going to keep a print of them here next to my computer as a reminder, also for my own personal daily life.

    It would be interesting, now, to start asking ourselves if there is a common principle that lays behind these rules and that keeps them within a coherent frame.

    I would imagine, in that role, “the principle of dialogue”, meant in classical terms: the principle according to which each person has a dialogical structure: no-one can be treated as an object, no-one can be put to silence as if she/he was superficial.
    This might also help thinking that rules have an enormous practical importance, but it is a principle – and the neverending attempt to translate it into reality – which constantly invites to act in a respectful, restorative way.


  17. jason ekk says:

    Hey Howard… great list…

    The suggestion I would give would be “humility”. As I study RJ, it seems more and more apparent that we need to be remembering humility. Maybe it is just me, but, that is not easy.

    Merry Christmas from Fresno

  18. jack says:

    This is great post.
    The great 10 way to live. I appreciate your post.
    thanks for sharing.
    Création de site web

  19. Alex says:

    It can seem hard to live based on these rules, but it’s worth it.

    Marantz Recorders

  20. Beth says:

    I really find the “10 ways to live restoratively” to be a foundation that again can be explored and used in any facet of life at any age. This path is one of honor to follow. Many of us are not able to follow it daily but strive to improve on a daily basis. Keep trying is a good way to practice living with others. There have been many programs that use “steps’ or “keys” to follow and they have proven themselves to be valuable in healing and this is another form of a wonderful guide to enhance the experience of daily living. I think the ‘10 ways to live restorative” should be laminated in poster form and placed on every wall above every copier in every business. That would create quite a change in our lives as well as the potential of the world.

  21. Great work here, and a very promising direction for deepening how we think about justice. My suggestions:

    I love that you include “the environment” in your definition of the “interconnected web.” However, I prefer this language when describing the web of relations: “humans, non-human species, and the habitats which sustain us all.” I think that this wording gives greater specificity in a way that is both challenging and encourages mindfulness in all our relationships. It can call us to reflect upon the exceptional value we place upon human lives at the expense of the lives of other species and habitats–a frame of mind that is not only unsustainable, but that is a foundation of many systemic injustices. I have not included “institutions” in my phrasing but am inspired by your wording to do so in the future.

    On the third point, I agree entirely, but with this caveat: it is important to balance taking personal responsibility with a clear awareness of what role other’s peoples issues play in conflict. It is not restorative to own too much. When we do we may deprive others of their opportunity to take responsibility, and the learning and growing that can result when they do.

    The parenthetical statement with point seven has proven difficult for some people to parse. I say this because I shared this list with a class on restorative justice I was teaching at a university, and many of the students weren’t sure what you meant. Perhaps: “If you can set aside the need to be right, what new possibilities might emerge? Consider being guided by these possibilities.”

    Those are my suggestions. Thanks again for your ongoing leadership and vision for justice.

  22. Excellent article. Came across your blog on Google and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far. Keep the articles coming!

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