Thanks for joining my class on “how to build a new reality.”
I’ve been thinking about how to build a new reality for most of my life because the reality we’re in now has some serious shortcomings.
You and I might not agree on all the details, but throughout the world there is widespread mistrust of our institutions and our leaders — although most countries in the world now claim to be democracies that represent the will of the people.
Even a dictator like Kim Jong-Un feels the need to masquerade his country as the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
However, if we supposedly have governments of, by and for the people, why do most of us feel so alienated from our own governments?
Whether you’re politically on the right, the left or somewhere in the middle, most of us would agree that elite groups run things and that we as ordinary citizens do not have a real say in much of anything.
We would be wise to heed the warning that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis gave Americans in 1941.
He said, “We must make our choice.”
“We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
The richest 1% of Americans now own 43% of our country’s wealth.
Their share of wealth has doubled since I was a kid.
Globally the richest 1% own as much as the other 99% of all humanity.
In a world once dominated by monarchs, money now rules.
The wealthy and powerful buy influence in government.
Alvin O’Konski, a U.S. congressman for 30 years, claimed that most lawmakers “are bought, sold, signed, sealed and delivered.”
Campaign donations have become another form of bribery that corrupts representative government.
A veteran lobbyist once commented about the candidates’ need to please their donors.
He said, “Politicians would love to do the right thing, if only they could get away with it.”
Citizens lack true representation.
It’s the same in large corporations where the CEO and the board serve their own interests, instead of those of the stockholders.
The median annual pay for corporate board members in the U.S. is over a quarter of a million dollars per year, although board members work less than 5 hours per week, with many board members serving on multiple corporate boards.
Evidently stockholders lack true representation as well.
When I launched BANR and the Building a New Reality website in 2016, I wanted to share a range of hopeful possibilities for improving modern society — possibilities that are consistent with my earlier efforts to advance an emerging social science called “restorative practices.”
In these hyper-partisan political times, I am proud to say that you cannot define BANR in conventional political terms because we don’t care who you voted for in the last election.
What we’d like to know is, “Do you want to improve the chances for a healthy, peaceful and prosperous future for the next generations of humanity?”
We highlight promising developments that enable ordinary people to have more voice, more choice and more shared responsibility.
We envision a revolution by conversation.
While adversarial conversations have become the norm these days — BANR’s participatory events provide a friendly and respectful setting for civil discourse.
We aspire to be a global learning and decision-making community — an expandable participatory non-partisan think-tank.
The concept that unifies all our work is “restorative practices” a new social science that studies how to improve our relationships in civil society — our most urgent need.
The fundamental premise of restorative practices is that “human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”
Physicists have long searched for “a theory of everything” that explains the physical universe.
We now seem to have come across “a theory of everyone” that explains the human universe.
Whether in a family, classroom, workplace or whole country, we get better results if authorities in each setting meaningfully engage stakeholders in decision-making.
Growing evidence affirms that in most situations restorative practices are more effective than traditional top-down decision-making where there is little input from those most affected by the decisions.
In 2000, to teach and support research in this emerging field, I founded a new accredited master’s degree-granting graduate school called the “International Institute for Restorative Practices.”
The IIRP is dedicated to restoring community by preventing and resolving conflict and building and strengthening relationships.
In the United States, restorative practices have had the most impact in schools, youth justice, and youth counseling but restorative practices have much wider implications.
I’m a fan of the late Buckminster Fuller, one of the 20th century’s great innovators.
He said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
For most of my life my colleagues and I have built models to try out ideas and processes.
Our strategy is to take action, assess the outcomes, make modifications as needed, tell the world about it and take more actions wherever we can.
The benefit of bringing restorative practices to every setting of society — from family, school and workplace to justice and government — is to offer individuals more voice and more choice in exchange for taking more shared responsibility.
It’s not essential that we all agree with each other on everything.
But it is essential that each of us feels included in the conversation.
That is the key to a good democracy and also is at the heart of restorative practices.
So, you might ask, what are restorative practices restoring?
Restorative practices are restoring family and community.According to historian Yuval Noah Harari, over the last two centuries the Industrial Revolution caused the global collapse of traditional family and community structures and handed over most of their responsibilities to governments and businesses.
Harari called this collapse the greatest social upheaval that ever befell humanity.
I’m going to recite a bit of Harari’s description because he does such a great job of explaining.
He says that for almost all of human history:
“The daily life of most humans ran its course within three ancient frames: the nuclear family, the extended family and the local intimate community.
Most people worked in the family business — the family farm or the family workshop — or they worked in their neighbors’ family businesses.
The family was also the welfare system, the health system, the education system, the construction industry, the trade union, the pension fund, the insurance company, the radio, the television, the newspapers, the bank and even the police.
When a person fell sick, the family took care of her.
When a person grew old, the family supported her, and her children were her pension fund.
When a person died, the family took care of the orphans.”
Now, most of those roles have been assumed by government and business.
Harari’s historical explanation matches the claim made by the eminent sociologist Jurgën Habermas, that government and business, which Habermas calls “the system,” has pushed aside what he calls “the lifeworld.”
The lifeworld is the network of families and friends that throughout most of human history took responsibility for all of humanity’s needs.
Habermas contrasts the two terms — the system and the lifeworld — as competing but related ways that society operates.
The system is comprised of administration, laws, politics, economics, organizations and paid professionals, while the lifeworld is based on relationships.
One of the most critical differences between the two is that in the system people look out for each other because they are paid to do so — but in the lifeworld we look out for each other because we care.
Restorative practices have the potential to bring the lifeworld into the system – to improve relationships and caring in all facets of society.
Restorative practices treat people with respect by maximizing voice and choice.
Furthermore they foster shared responsibility.
When properly implemented in schools, which can be challenging, restorative practices have improved life for students, teachers, administrators and parents — dramatically reducing bullying and other wrongdoing and establishing a more positive and cooperative environment.
When a society offers numerous opportunities for purposeful and personal conversation, those practices foster relationships and create an overall feeling of mutual connection and well-being.
It’s important to note that restorative practices are not utopian, based on a naive hope that we can somehow perfect human nature.
Rather, restorative practices are realistic, fully accepting that wrongdoing and conflict are normal and occur wherever there are people.
The challenge is not to achieve perfection, but to manage our wrongdoing and conflict in a way that is caring and that makes things better.
Our current strategies, like routinely suspending and expelling students or putting large numbers of people in prison, only seem to make things worse.
Yet we cannot allow people to hurt other people.
So, as we move forward in this master class, we will explore a range of promising alternatives to current practices that may better meet our needs.