I was reading this thread the last night and among the things that stuck out for me was this particular point:
I started to think about an answer to this question and the first thing I ran into was this thing I already wrote about accountability. In some of my calls for accountability, I’ve been ragey and at other times, less so.
After every one of these, the question comes up: “OK, so what should this look like? How do we restore the people who’ve broken trust? What should that look like across the board? How do they come back from that?”
Across all of the different things I’ve written or post or shared, there are some consistent patterns and touchstones that speak to that question, so this writing comes from those places.
There’s a lot to be said about the “rush to cancel folks” that some people are on and, to be sure, some of those critiques are valid. However, I have some things that I want to take off the table before I start getting into more nuanced thoughts:
- I’m not out here trying to burn people at the stake because they were mean to Susie in 3rd grade.
- I’m not out here trying to ruin lives because people broke up with someone over text message in college or had bad sex and just decided to ghost afterward.
- I’m talking about patterns, not points.
That leaves us with egregious offenses and patterns of behavior that harm one or more people. We need to do something with those. Let’s start with the thing we want:
- A clear admission of wrong that lets me know that this person understands how their actions were harmful to me.
- A statement that indicates that responsibility is being taken for what has happened.
- A statement on how this will be avoided again in the future.
- An expression of remorse equal to the gravity of the situation that leads to action to the amend the wrong done.
- Space and time to process my own emotions about what I’ve seen and experienced and arrive at forgiveness, should I choose to offer it, at a time that makes sense to me.
The last point is especially important because when it comes to people being held accountable for their actions, the assumption is that forgiveness ought to be offered. That after a certain amount of time or actions, it should be given.
Thing is… that’s not how it works. Sometimes the forgiveness will not (and cannot) be given. Let’s look at why. Let’s use the last couple of weeks as an example.
The Last Two Weeks
I don’t think we need to dig deep, nor do I need to provide a link to the many things that have come forward over the last couple of weeks. However, I want to draw attention to the things that have happened because of it.
* * *
First, trust was broken and severely. In these cases, it wasn’t just one breach of trust, but several that came forward all at once. When you’re a person who is on the outside looking in, with no connection to this person, it’s fairly easy to just put them in the trash and not speak of them.
However, when you are a friend or an acquaintance of someone who is outed, things become real uncomfortable real quick.
How long was this happening? How didn’t I know this? Why would they do this? How was this hidden from me for so long? How many of my other friends in our circle did they harm? Who else could they have harmed if this hadn’t been brought to light with me right there?
Grief sets in, but people expect you to have an entire press statement ready before your grieving is done neverminding the fact that you’ve known these people for years. People forget you are a human, too. Your swing from sad to angry to numb several times a minute.
Depending on the relationship, you settle and think that, maybe… maybe this person could be put on the right path, but hoooooly fuck are people mad at them. They’re right to be and now they are in your mentions, your DMs, your emails, and your discord demanding you speak on the subject.
The only thing you want in those times is space and silence to gather yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, and your words. When you do find the words, they catch in your throat. Sometimes, you can only DM them; making a public statement is too painful.
* * *
When you’re a friend of the person harmed, all you want for them is to stop hurting for the person who did the thing to hurt instead. You want them out of and away from everything your friend is connected to. You want them away from you, too. Because fuck them, this person has been sitting in this grief and trauma for years and couldn’t even speak about it.
You start looking at friends or associates of this abuser with suspicion because they haven’t said anything. Don’t they see the person hurt over here? I mean, yeah, it’s their friend or whatever but they fucked up and something should be done to make it right. Maybe they are siding with the person who did the harm. Nah, fuck that. Matter of fact, get them out of here, too. The abuser and their whole entourage of friends and other relationships can go right in the trash, too.
Most of this is driven by righteous anger, but also? There’s fear – worse: confirmed fear – that the people who have done this will not be held accountable by the systems we have in place or by their friends. They will continue to function as they have been and the people harmed will have to live with seeing them in their spaces, in their mentions, in the live plays of their favorite streams and other forms of entertainment.
When you can’t have people who violate trust be brought to justice proper and de-platformed while they do the work that needs to be done and make amends that need to be made, the only other option is trying to force that de-platforming in the hope that they won’t be able to harm anyone else and keep them out of the places they’ve already harmed someone.
All of This, All The Time
It’s the same thing with any of this stuff that we’re bonded to and for notes: social media has us all fucked up in the way we relate to all of this stuff.
We build relationships we should reserve for people with companies like Wizards of the Coast, Amazon, Riot Games, etc. and feel the same level of emotions when they betray us. The whole thing is a mess we don’t know how to step back from because taking a moment to step back and consider our words is conflated with lack of care.
Issues are seen as black and white and the people in the mix of it have their humanity removed without a thought by just about everyone. We have to unpack that if we’re going to even attempt to breach the subject of restorative justice.
But maybe we can unpack it a little.
Where This Justice Thing Starts
A world where restorative lives means that trust has to be given and not broken. Not to a person, but to a people and to a set of principles.
Having a community where everyone trusts each other means that we have room to mess up. Think of a friend you have that fucks up. You don’t expect them to be perfect, but you trust each other and that trust means the following:
“I’m gonna call you in when you’re out of pocket knowing that once we understand each other, you’ll make it right. I won’t have to bug you about it because I know you care enough about me and my humanity to not continue to do harm.”
The simple truth is that we don’t have that trust in general and we have several systems that thrive on mistrust which, in turn, informs our reactions. The anger, the outbursts, the anxiety that sets in (and the grief that follows) because “what if they get away with it like they have time after time after time.”
Let’s put that aside from a moment. Open your mind. Let’s think about what this looks like when that trust is present:
- A person messes up.
- Severity is assesssed.
- Someone catches wind of it and the whole community soon knows because communication is open. In this environment of trust, everyone speaks freely because they know they will be seen, heard, and taken seriously when bringing things up that need correcting.
- Community: “Hey, that wasn’t cool. That was really not cool.”
- Person in the wrong: “I… you’re right. I fucked up. I’m sorry.”
- Friend of person in the wrong + community: “Some of this is unforgivable, but we’re gonna try to make this right.”
- Community: “We feel some kind of way, but we know y’all are gonna get them together. That’s the bond. What’s gonna happen in the meantime.”
- Adjacent associates and friends: “Let’s talk to them and get back with y’all in [timeframe]. We need a bit to process all of this.”
- Community: “We see you. Take the time you need to do this right.”
Everyone adjourns. The twitter storm subsides. No one is in anyone’s DMs and mentions. Everyone follows through and honors the trust of the community at all times every time to the best of their abilities.
The room for failure is built in because their is a foundation of trust that people do right most of the time.
Right now, as you read this, you are either laughing because you think I am naive or you are near-tears because you resonate with this and have no way to conceive of how it could work.
It could. It can, but that’s an investment we have to make and it’s a lot of asking. I want to hope we choose this and fight for it, but the systems that allow that hope to flourish haven’t been built yet.