Tag Archives: restorative justice

Druidry and Confession

I’ve felt for some time now that the Catholics are on to something with confession. There are times when it would be an enormous relief to be able to tell someone the things.

As Druids don’t have a clear set of rules in the first place, it would be down to the individual to decide what they need to confess. We wouldn’t need to frame it as sin necessarily. Failures, shortcomings, mistakes, bad ideas, poor responses – whatever a person felt uncomfortable about, could be usefully owned in a safe space.

The wise and experienced Druid hearing the confession could then tell us what they think of it. There are times when it would be really helpful to hear things like ‘this is just ordinary human error.’ ‘Clearly you could not have know how this would work out’ and things of that ilk. Feedback that isn’t forgiveness, but that could be permission to forgive yourself. We all mess up, but it can be hard not to beat yourself up over mistakes.

Confession in a Druid context wouldn’t be about penitence or punishment, but it might be about restorative justice. Again there are lots of times when it might be of great benefit to have someone else’s wisdom in the mix. Imagine someone who can say ‘you really do need to apologise for this’ or ‘here are some things you could try that might be restorative.’

People who are having a hard time with their mental health and/or dealing with abuse can end up feeling responsible for things that aren’t of their making. The process of confessing could open the way to hearing that you may be taking too much onto yourself or judging yourself too harshly. It could signpost the way to therapy, or to kinder thoughts. Sometimes being told that you can’t possibly be responsible for what’s going on is the first step to recognising an abusive situation. None of this requires much in the way of qualification, I think. Just enough life experience to spot when people feel responsible for things they cannot possibly be responsible for.

There would be relief in being able to say to someone ‘this is how I have messed up’ and hearing their take on it, offered in kindness. Obviously there’s no formal way to do this at the moment, but it is something we might be able to do for each other.

Beyond tolerance

Having contemplated the limits of tolerance, I thought it might be productive to ask what we do when we hit those boundaries. When we find someone else intolerable, it’s easy to give ourselves justifications for anger. We can clench fists and work up a good helping of moral indignation, and then decide that things ought to be done and this should not be allowed to continue. We can decide that based on our own opinions, we have the right to take action and challenge the behaviour of another. There will be times when this is both justified and necessary. There are also plenty of times when it isn’t. There was an incident years ago when an angry mob, wound up by tabloid reporting, decided to do something about a paediatrician in their area, not having grasped this is a wholly different title to paedophile. When we lash out in anger, even if we feel total justified at the time, we can still make horrible, irreversible mistakes. If we respond with aggression, because we feel entitled to do so, what are doing? Do we really feel everyone is entitled to act unpleasantly if they find something else intolerable? The greater the outrage we feel, the more natural it seems to want to respond with something decisive. A little justice perhaps. An eye for an eye. There are plenty of men who think infidelity is a valid justification for murder. There are people who think blasphemy justifies murder. There are people who think being raped is the fault of the woman and that it would then be reasonable to stone her to death for infidelity. We can recognise there are things that should not be tolerated, but as soon as we use our own intolerance to justify violence, cruelty or oppression, we have ceased to act honourably. How then can we tackle unacceptable situations and behaviour? Whatever the precise methods we go for, I think the broadest answer must be ‘with compassion.’ That doesn’t mean letting abuse go unchecked and crime ignored, but it does mean drawing breath, stepping back, considering bigger pictures and root causes as well as the anger of the moment. I have a friend who works in prisons teaching basic literacy and maths to inmates. That says a lot about the circumstances of many people who get on the wrong side of the law. Studies show poor nutrition contributes to crime and antisocial behaviour. Abusers may well have been victims as children. Locking people up and making more restrictive laws does not solve much. People who are happy with their lot in life do not tend to become terrorists. That doesn’t mean placating everyone either. It doesn’t mean everyone has to have their own way in all things for fear of what they might otherwise do. What underpins every society is individual relationships between people. Relationships between different groups of people. Relationships between organisations. Relationships with the state. Failures in these beget problems. Where there is inequality of opportunity and education, where the system is stacked against the poor, where there is abuse of power, corruption, oppression and institutionalised cruelty, there are going to be social problems. And equally a culture that looks the other way, allows certain groups of people to break laws, does not hold people accountable for their actions and so forth will also foster disrespect and crime. If we want to vent anger and point fingers, it’s not enough to think about individual wrongs. We need to look out our whole society, its beliefs, methods, institutions, the things it tells people, the pressures it exerts, the actions it condones. Society is made up of every individual within it, and each of us is affected by what everyone else does. So you can’t think about answers purely on the individual scale, or purely on a political scale either. At the limits of tolerance, we need to find the motives, to demand real justice and make real changes. We are so far from being a fair society, it’s little wonder we have so much to get angry about, and compared to some of the world, we English speaking nations are models of social justice and democracy. And we aren’t even close to what that should mean.