Restorative Justice: Insights and Stories from My Journey

*It’s been a 5.5 year hiatus for the ZI Blog with the most recent post On safe spaces having been published in July of 2016. In the coming months we are hoping to reinvigorate this ZI Blog space as another point of connection – to each other and to the broader fields of restorative justice and peacebuilding. Be ready, we may reach towards some of you with invitations to write for the blog!

Restorative justice as a way of life?

James Baldwin, the Black American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, once reflected on the observed disjuncture between word and action – “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” Our observations of the lived actions and interactions of others significantly impact whether or not we believe what they say (or what they write). Practice and theory synthesize, co-mingle, and become inseparable. In a similar vein, Dr. Cornel West’s famous quote “Justice is what love looks like in public” is often left without its ending (at least the ending that Dr. West offers in a few contexts) of “and tenderness is what love feels like in private.” Coherence contributes to credibility. In the context of relationships, coherence and credibility build trust.

Since I met Howard 30 years ago, he has been my mentor, professor, collaborator, and friend. I have experienced first-hand his many traits that shine through in this book and take them as lessons on how to be in this world — practice humility, reflect critically, honor and seek out others’ contributions, and embrace humor.

Howard generously shares of his personal life, offering a glimpse into his hobbies, friendships, and family. It is the lessons from when Howard is not being the “grandfather of Restorative Justice” that stand out to me: embrace your inner geek, savor a good cup of coffee, and return emails promptly. 

Barb Toews – RJ educator and practitioner, University of Washington Tacoma

February 7, 2023 was the official release date for Dr. Howard Zehr’s newest book Restorative Justice: Insights and Stories from My Journey. Published by Walnut Street Books, the book contains what the title suggests – stories and insights (and photographs!) from Howard’s years spent teaching, practicing, critiquing, synthesizing, mentoring, and leading. Longtime publishers of Zehr’s writings Merle Good and Phyllis Pellman Good recently reflected that they sent invitations for endorsements for this book to 45 individuals, hoping to receive a dozen back. All but 1 of the 45 invited responded with endorsements (some of them lengthy!) in support of Howard’s legacy.

So many of the endorsements reflected an inverted version of the James Baldwin quote above – we have seen what (and how) you do, and therefore we can believe what you say. Dr. Zehr is not perfect; he himself would be the first (or perhaps a close second, I could see Ruby beating him to it!) to let anyone know this. However, Howard’s life and work is believable and trustworthy because it is rooted in humility – defined as a deep recognition of the limits of what we know and how we navigate those limits and wonder/awe – which is the pleasure of unknowing.

If you know Howard even a little bit, you’ll know that good humor and a quick and playful wit are next door neighbors to humility and wonder/awe. This combination of humility, wonder/awe, and good humor is what draws people to Howard. It’s also what helps Howard’s thinking and writing to be so accessible and approachable to so many different audiences and through multiple mediums. Whatever box you have prepared for Howard to fit into, he’ll squeeze out of – likely with a camera in hand, an idea about a new way to wire a solar panel, or a new connection to someone doing interesting RJ work.

Dr. Zehr is known for his synthetic thinking and for his writing style that distills complex concepts into broadly accessible parts while maintaining the integrity of the whole. Howard has often described RJ as a compass, rather than a map – pointing a direction more than specifying a destination. It’s not that Howard doesn’t have a destination or two in mind; it’s that he’s convinced that how we get there (values) and who comes with us (relationships) matters. Howard is concerned with the journey – which is why he’s chosen to identify signposts for applying principles that can be used as guides along the way. Below is a graphic of one of these signpost lists – this particular list first appeared on this blog a number of years ago and also comprises a chapter of the new book Restorative Justice: Insights and Stories from My Journey.

10 Ways to Live Restoratively

  1. Take relationships seriously, recognizing you are one part of a web of people, institutions and the environment.
  2. Be aware of the impact of your actions on others and the world around you.
  3. Take responsibility for injuries you have caused – acknowledge and try to repair harm.
  4. Listen to others deeply and compassionately – try to understand even when you disagree.
  5. View conflicts in your life as opportunities.
  6. Whenever possible, involve people in decisions that affect them.
  7. Treat everyone with respect, including those who offend you.
  8. Engage in dialogue with others even when that’s difficult – remain open to learning from them.
  9. Be cautious about imposing your “truths” and views on other people and situations.
  10. Sensitively confront everyday injustices such as sexism, racism, and classism.

If you have a tribute or endorsement of Dr. Zehr that you would like to share – you’re invited to add it to the comments section below.

Keep your eyes, inboxes, and social media portals open for more from the Zehr Institute in the coming months – and as always you may reach us by emailing