Restorative Justice and Healing
Today, we spent our day discussing and practicing methods of restorative justice. In the beginning of the first session, the professor asked all of us to sit in a circle, after which we conducted a few activities to allowed us to agree on shared values and practices that would guide our behavior in the circle. This exercise was a great precursor that set the framework for the rest of the day. It reminded all of us, that regardless of our upbringings and cultures, we all share some universal values, particularly, empathy, humility, and open-mindedness.
Then, we were asked to partner with someone, and share our experiences with war, trauma, and violence in a few minutes. This approach to healing, while it might be tremendously effective for others, made me uncomfortable, and I chose not to participate in the activity. While I am aware that some people might want to reflect on traumatic experiences that they have lived and share them with others in order to be better in touch with how it impacted them and shaped their perspectives, I personally would rather not discuss mine in such a setting. I fear that it would be unproductive for me, and would in fact undermine my emotional and mental wellbeing rather than achieve its intended results of making me feel better by getting things off my chest. This approach does not work well for me personally, but I think it helped me relate back to my work with underprivileged girls in Lebanon, where we would sit in circles and have group discussions about a sensitive topic. I was now more aware that some of these practices, although widely used across the world, might work for some and be problematic for others.
It highlighted the dichotomy in healing processes between different individuals. Sitting down in circles to talk, share, and reflect on traumatic experiences was never the way my friends, family, and I dealt with things back home. Instead, we laughed it off, had a huge meal, and went out clubbing or partying. I remember us cracking jokes about the acerbity of our political instability right after we saw bombs destroying bridges in the 2006 wars. We would go clubbing until 7AM during the same week that a major political figure was assassinated. If we had to stop and reflect every time we experienced something ‘traumatic’, we would have spent our childhoods just crying and discussing our miseries instead of just moving on with our lives.
Like others in the country and around the world, I have developed defense mechanisms that allow me to joke about these experiences rather than just engage in what I perceive as misery poker. Especially when I am in a new place with people that I recently met, the kinds of stories you tell about yourself define the lens through which they see you, so I refuse to place these experiences at the forefront of my identity, and I refuse to be reduced to a victim of war and violence, or seen just as that.
For these reasons, I also critique the concept of PTSD as a perception of mental health through a Western-centric lens. This concept gained traction after US soldiers came back from war in the Middle East, which was a set period of time in which they experienced trauma; however, people around the world, and even soldiers and other individuals in the US, experience or relive the trauma on a regular basis, and they become so insensitivized to it that it does not really feel traumatic anymore, even if it still impacts them on an emotional and mental level.