Ruminations on Romney: Bullying through a Compassionate Lens
Since often what people who engage in harmful behavior lack is empathic understanding of the effect of their actions, restorative justice seeks to bring those who harm together with those who have been harmed. As one principal of a middle school in San Francisco said in a Greater Good article,about the Romney incident, "We're human beings, we're going to have a sense of compassion for this person that we harmed, once we have a chance to see how our actions made them feel."
I want to emphasize again that letting go of a punitive response does not mean accepting the behavior. We can all respond to incidents of violence in ways that restore trust and respect, rather than create further hurt by demonizing and punishing those who bully.
The success of programs such as ,Roots of Empathy,and the extensive research about the cycle of abuse and the deep links between shame and violence lead me to a deep faith that the failure of our times is a failure in empathy rather than a loosening of strict control. We are bombarded by images which glorify violence even as we are admonished against it. We are provided with fewer and fewer avenues for loving connection with others. It is not cool to express affection, whether for teens in school or for all of us at work, for example. What can we do to increase the overall kindness of our culture? How can we provide children, whether bullied, witnesses, or current and former bullies, with avenues to explore their true human needs and develop strategies to meet them that are embedded in human relationships? I so deeply want to strengthen the fabric of our interrelatedness so we can nurture all children.
A last word about Romney: Given his visibility as the presumptive Republican candidate for the Presidency, the community affected by his long-ago actions now appears to be the entire population of the US. What can Romney do that would restore trust? I wish he could recognize the momentous opportunity he has to engage in a restorative process, even after the person he is alleged to have tormented is now dead. He could visibly and publicly open his heart to the horror in which he participated and take ownership of it instead of dismissing it as a prank that went too far. He could, conceivably, provide a window into what the inner experience of participating in such an act feels like, so others who bully could possibly understand themselves better. Such an act could humanize him, others, and ultimately all of us.