Live Restoratively: 10 Ways We Can & Why We Should

Howard Zehr

Editor's Note: Restorative Justice is such a simple (and ancient) approach: Involve those who commit crimes in the process of repairing the harm they've caused to people, relationships, and the community and reintegrate them once amends are made. This concept – that repairing harm rather than ostracizing those who cause it makes for healthier communities – is being proven in schools, workplaces, retail stores, and municipalities around the world. Dr. Howard Zehr, widely regarded as the “the grandfather of restorative justice,” shared this post, originally published by the Zehr Institute For Restorative Justice,  in honor of Restorative Justice Week. 

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.

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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.

Invite all those who feel they have a stake in a situation of harm or conflict to participate in dialogue around the issues and have a voice in the outcomes or decisions made. Note and address power imbalances as much as possible to achieve consensus.

Heal what's 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 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 actions and choices. They're given the opportunity to explain their behavior and fulfill the obligations created from their behavior directly to the people they have harmed.

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

Reunite what's been divided Crime victims often experience a sense of isolation from the community, as do offenders. While the reasons for this isolation differ, seek processes that allow for reintegration for all who have been affected in the wake of a crime. Such processes create a renewed sense of wholeness and closure.

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

Strengthen the community to prevent future harms A restorative justice process focuses not only on the details of the crime, but also on addressing the systemic causes of crime in the community. In this way, a healthier and safer community is created for all. Most communities can use situations of harm to learn, grow and change where necessary. Living restoratively helps illuminate systemic injustices and power imbalances. Advocating for positive changes make the community a healthier and more just place for all.

Disclaimer: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Howard Zehr

Howard Zehr


Widely known as “the grandfather of restorative justice,” Zehr began as a practitioner and theorist in restorative justice in the late 1970s. He has led hundreds of events in more than 25 countries and 35 states, including trainings and consultations on restorative justice, victim-offender conferencing, judicial reform, and other criminal justice matters. From 2008-2011 he served on the Victims Advisory Group of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. In 2013, Zehr stepped away from classroom teaching and became co-director, with Dr. Carl Stauffer, of the new Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice.

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