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Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice

Saturday, September 12, 2020
Summary: Sunday, September 6—Friday, September 11, 2020

Our best self wants to restore relationships, and not just blame or punish. This is the “economy of grace” and an operative idea of restorative justice. (Sunday)

Jesus, who represents God, usually transforms people at the moments when they most hate themselves, when they most feel shame or guilt, or want to punish themselves. (Monday)

Restorative justice requires, at minimum, that we address the harms and needs of those harmed, hold those causing harm accountable to “put right” those harms, and involve both of these parties as well as relevant communities in this process. —Howard Zehr (Tuesday)

Restorative justice is a justice that seeks not to punish, but to heal. —Fania E. Davis (Wednesday)

When human beings admit to one another “the exact nature of our wrongs,” as the Twelve Steps recommend, we invariably have a human and humanizing encounter that deeply enriches both sides. (Thursday)

My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. —Bryan Stevenson (Friday)

 

Practice: A Restorative Way of Life

I believe the intent of the sacrament of Reconciliation in the Catholic Church is restorative justice—returning the individual to God, to their faith community, and to their best selves. Asking people to “confess” what they have gotten wrong in their relationships is an important first step, although sadly, it became the one we clergy focused on. True repair and restoration take much more than a bit of penance and a handful of Hail Marys, not that those aren’t fine places to start. I hope that we Christians will find the courage to take the example of Jesus seriously and think about how we can make all the justice we seek restorative, especially for the “least of these.”

Howard Zehr, whose work we shared earlier this week, has written some of the foundational texts on restorative justice, including Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for Our Times. In the 25th anniversary edition of this text, Zehr includes practices to help us live restorative justice as a way of life.

Ten 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.
  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 [and other examples of systemic and intersectional injustice].

Reference:
Howard Zehr, Changing Lenses: Restorative Justice for Our Times (Herald Press: ©1990, 2015), 257—258.

For Further Study:
The Big Book of Restorative Justice: Four Classic Justice and Peacebuilding Books in One Volume (Good Books: 2015). Collected titles: Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice; Kay Pranis, The Little Book of Circle Processes; Allan MacRae and Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Family Group Conferences; Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, The Little Book of Victim Offender Conferencing.

Fania E. Davis, The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation (Good Books: 2019).

Elaine Enns and Ched Myers, Ambassadors of Reconciliation, Volume 2: Diverse Christian Practices of Restorative Justice and Peacemaking (Orbis Books: 2009).

Justice as Healing: Indigenous Ways, ed. Wanda D. McCaslin (Living Justice Press: 2005).

Ched Myers and Elaine Enns, Ambassadors of Reconciliation, Volume 1: New Testament Reflections on Restorative Justice and Peacemaking (Orbis Books: 2009).

Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011).

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018).

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel and Grau: 2014).

Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice: Revised and Updated (Good Books: 2015).

Image credit: What is Ubuntu 01 (detail), Gretchen Andrew, 2018.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. —Howard Zehr
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Restorative Justice

Greater Proximity, Greater Mercy
Friday, September 11, 2020

Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument. —Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, social justice activist, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. [1] In his book Just Mercy: A Story of Redemption and Justice, he makes the case that it is distance—physical, social, and spiritual—that allows injustice to flourish. Proximity to one’s neighbor—and remember, we’re all neighbors according to Jesus—is what turns our hearts towards love and restorative justice. Stevenson writes about his first interaction with an inmate named Henry on death row: two men, exactly the same age, one studying at Harvard Law School, one condemned to die:

Henry asked me questions about myself, and I asked him about his life. Within an hour we were both lost in conversation. . . .

I had no right to expect anything from a condemned man on death row. Yet he gave me an astonishing measure of his humanity. In that moment, Henry altered something in my understanding of human potential, redemption, and hopefulness. . . . Proximity to the condemned and incarcerated made the question of each person’s humanity more urgent and meaningful, including my own. . . .

I’ve also represented people who have committed terrible crimes but nonetheless struggle to recover and to find redemption. I have discovered, deep in the hearts of many condemned and incarcerated people, the scattered traces of hope and humanity—seeds of restoration that come to astonishing life when nurtured by very simple interventions.

Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and—perhaps—we all need some measure of unmerited grace.

References:
[1] For more information about the museum and the organization, visit https://eji.org

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel and Grau: 2014), 10, 12, 17-18.

Epigraph: “The Meaning of the Birmingham Tragedy, 1963,” interview with Reinhold Niebuhr, James Baldwin, and Thomas C. Kilgore, Jr. (September 22, 1963), sponsored by the Protestant Council of the City of New York.

Image credit: What is Ubuntu 01 (detail), Gretchen Andrew, 2018.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. —Howard Zehr
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Restorative Justice

A Healing Process
Thursday, September 10, 2020

When human beings admit to one another “the exact nature of our wrongs,” as the Twelve Steps recommend, we invariably have a human and humanizing encounter that deeply enriches both sides. It is no longer an exercise to achieve moral purity, or regain God’s love, but in fact a direct encounter with God’s love. It is not about punishing one side but liberating both sides. Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice Emeritus of the Navajo Nation, speaks from his Diné tradition about “talking out the problem” as a necessary step towards healing justice.

Many people seem to be turning away from law as coercion and are looking to restorative and reparative principles. Restorative is defined as “the process for renewing damaged personal and community relationships.” Reparative is defined as “the process of making things right for those affected by an offender’s behavior.” In other words, how can we help victims? We use only one word for both ideas: peacemaking. The Navajo term is Hozhooji Naat’aanii. . . . I will simply describe it as “talking things out in a good way.”. . . .

The procedure is fairly simple. Its elements are 1) prayer; 2) expressing feelings; 3) “the lecture”; 4) discussion; 5) reconciliation; and 6) consensus.

  1. Prayer. A traditional prayer puts people in the right frame of mind for the talking out. . . .
  2. Expressing feelings. After prayer, everyone has a say about what happened. They also express how they feel about what happened. . . . In peacemaking, you must know how I feel, and I must know how you feel. That is part of making or restoring a healthy relationship. . . .
  3. “The lecture.” When the prayers have been said, when emotions have been expressed, and when people have told their stories, it is time for guidance from our naat’aanii [peacemaker or Elder] . . . when the peacemaker does some teaching. . . . By offering guidance from our stories, traditions, and ceremonies and applying them to the situation, our peacemakers teach the law. . . .
  4. Discussion. Who participates in the peacemaking? The parties themselves (who are the “judges”), a leader and planner (naat’aanii), and relatives. . . . The discussion phase also gets at the causes of problems. . . .
  5. Reconciliation. If you operate a “winner take all” system of justice, expect ongoing problems. If you have a system that works toward reconciliation, you may resolve the conflicts that underlie ongoing problems. . . . Navajo justice is restorative justice. . . .
  6. Consensus. Finally, based upon the prayer, venting, discussion, and knowledge of the traditional way of doing things, the people themselves usually reach a consensus about what to do. Planning is actually a central Navajo justice concept, and the people plan a very practical resolution to the problem. Today, we put it in writing, and the parties sign it. Consensus is what makes our justice and harmony ceremony—peacemaking—a healing process.

References:
Robert Yazzie, “Healing as Justice: The Navajo Response to Crime,” in Justice as Healing: Indigenous Ways, ed. Wanda D. McCaslin (Living Justice Press: 2005), 123, 125–126, 127, 128.

Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 39–40.

Image credit: What is Ubuntu 01 (detail), Gretchen Andrew, 2018.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. —Howard Zehr
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Restorative Justice

Justice in Relationship
Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Fania E. Davis is a civil rights attorney, writer, scholar, and the founding director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. She explains that through engaging in a relational process of repairing harm, restorative justice is:

A justice that seeks not to punish, but to heal. A justice, according to Kay Pranis, that is not about getting even, but about getting well. [1] A justice that seeks to transform broken lives, relationships, and communities, rather than shatter them further. A justice that seeks reconciliation, rather than a deepening of conflict.

Davis has studied the indigenous roots of restorative justice around the world, particularly in Africa, as shown in her reflections:

African justice making, rather than an occasion to inflict punishment, is an opportunity to teach, learn, reemphasize social values, and reaffirm the bonds of our inherent inter-relatedness. It is also an opportunity to identify and redress problematic social conditions that may have given rise to interpersonal harm.

In African indigenous justice, vindication of the person harmed is prioritized. The person responsible, and often their family, is obligated to offer apology, recompense, and reparation to the harmed person and community. A wrong can be made right by subsequent actions of the responsible person and other community members. Community is central. The concept of family in Africa embraces the nuclear family and the extended family as well as people who do not share blood or marriage relationships. Also, the African family extends beyond the living to include the realm of the ancestors.

Indeed, in the African worldview, when something happens to one, whether blessing or burden, it happens to all. A newborn baby is good fortune for family and also the entire village. Marriage unites two clans, not just two individuals. The deeply communal ethos among African and other indigenous traditions also holds true when wrongdoing occurs. If an individual steals from or kills another, they damage the relationship between their respective lineages or villages. In the wake of harm, making it right is not solely the responsibility of the individuals directly involved; it also the responsibility of communities. The focus is on repairing and rebuilding relationships with the intent of bringing social harmony. African indigenous justice seeks to strengthen relationships by fashioning win-win outcomes.

In keeping with the worldview and principles of African and other indigenous justice systems, restorative justice invites a paradigm shift in the way we think about and do justice—from a justice that harms to a justice that heals. Our prevailing adversarial system [of justice] . . . harms people who harm people, presumably to show that harming people is wrong. This sets into motion endless cycles of harm. Restorative justice seeks to interrupt these cycles by repairing the damage done to relationships in the wake of a crime or other wrongdoing, and do so in a way that is consonant with indigenous wisdom—Africa’s and that of other traditions. Justice is a healing ground, not a battleground.

References:
[1] Kay Pranis, “Restorative Values,” in Handbook of Restorative Justice, ed. Gerry Johnstone and Daniel W. Van Ness (Willan Publishing: 2007), 60.

Fania E. Davis, The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation (Good Books: 2019), 14, 23-25.

Image credit: What is Ubuntu 01 (detail), Gretchen Andrew, 2018.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. —Howard Zehr
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Restorative Justice

Making Amends
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

So what are we restoring? For me it’s about returning to the part of us that really wants to be connected to one another in a good way. Returning to the goodness inherent in all of us. —Fania Davis

For justice to be truly restorative, we must seek to restore the dignity and relationships of all involved. Howard Zehr, a long-time advocate, teacher, and practitioner of restorative justice, centers the needs of the victims. He writes:

Restorative justice requires, at minimum, that we address the harms and needs of those harmed, hold those causing harm accountable to “put right” those harms, and involve both of these parties as well as relevant communities in this process. [1]

Here, Zehr explains why making amends is so foundational to healing:

Restorative justice is based upon an old, common-sense understanding of wrongdoing. Although it would be expressed differently in different cultures, this approach is probably common to most traditional societies. For those of us from a European background, it is the way many of our ancestors (and perhaps even our parents) understood wrongdoing.

  • “Crime” or wrongdoing is a violation of people and of interpersonal relationships.
  • Violations create obligations.
  • The central obligation is to put right the wrongs, [that is], to repair the harms caused by wrongdoing. [2]

This is certainly a good description of how my siblings and I were raised by my parents to think about our own “wrongdoings.” Any scrape we got into, any hurt we caused one another, called for restoration far more than retribution. We had to fix what was broken and heal the relationship, not just say, “I’m sorry” or have a “time-out.” I wonder when or why we decided that model of reconciliation was no longer worthy of our time or effort—on familial and societal levels. Zehr continues:

Underlying this understanding of wrongdoing is an assumption about society: we are all interconnected. In the Hebrew scriptures, this is embedded in the concept of shalom, the vision of living in a sense of “all-rightness” with each other, with the creator, and with the environment. Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. . . .

Interrelationships imply mutual obligations and responsibilities. It comes as no surprise, then, that this view of wrongdoing emphasizes the importance of making amends or of “putting right.” Indeed, making amends for wrongdoing is an obligation. While the initial emphasis may be on the obligations owed by those who have caused harm, the focus on interconnectedness opens the possibility that others—especially the larger community—may have obligations as well.

Even more fundamentally, this view of wrongdoing implies a concern for healing of those involved—those directly harmed, those who cause harm, and their communities. [3]

References:
[1] Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice: Revised and Updated (Good Books: 2015), 35.

[2] Ibid., 28–29.

[3] Ibid., 29–30.

Epigraph: From an email sent by Davis to Howard Zehr. See The Little Book of Restorative Justice: Revised and Updated (Good Books: 2015), 15.

Image credit: What is Ubuntu 01 (detail), Gretchen Andrew, 2018.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. —Howard Zehr
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Restorative Justice

Restorative Love
Monday, September 7, 2020

As we read the Bible, God does not change as much as our knowledge of God evolves. I certainly recognize there are many biblical passages that present God as punitive and retributive, but we must stay with the text—and observe how we gradually let God grow up. Focusing on divine retribution leads to an ego-satisfying and eventually unworkable image of God which situates us inside of a very unsafe and dangerous universe. Both Jesus and Paul observed the human tendency toward retribution and spoke strongly about the limitations of the law.

The biblical notion of justice, beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures with the Jewish prophets—especially Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea—is quite different. If we read carefully and honestly, we will see that God’s justice is restorative. In each case, after the prophet chastises the Israelites for their transgressions against YHWH, the prophet continues by saying, in effect, “And here’s what YHWH will do for you: God will now love you more than ever! God will love you into wholeness. God will pour upon you a gratuitous, unbelievable, unaccountable, irrefutable love that you will finally be unable to resist.”

God “punishes” us by loving us more! How else could divine love be supreme and victorious? Check out this theme for yourself: Read such passages as Isaiah 29:13–24, Hosea 6:1–6, Ezekiel 16 (especially verses 59–63), and so many of the Psalms. God’s justice is fully successful when God can legitimate and validate human beings in their original and total identity! God wins by making sure we win—just as any loving human parent does. The little “time outs” and discipline along the way are simply to keep us awake and growing.

Love is the only thing that transforms the human heart. In the Gospels, we see Jesus fully revealing this divine wisdom. Love takes the shape and symbolism of healing and radical forgiveness—which is just about all that Jesus does. Jesus, who represents God, usually transforms people at the moments when they most hate themselves, when they most feel shame or guilt, or want to punish themselves. Look at Jesus’ interaction with the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10). He doesn’t belittle or punish Zacchaeus; instead, Jesus goes to his home, shares a meal with him, and treats him like a friend. Zacchaeus’ heart is opened and transformed. Only then does Zacchaeus commit to making reparations for the harm he has done.

As Isaiah says of God, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Yet I am afraid we largely pulled God down into “our thoughts.” We think fear, anger, divine intimidation, threat, and punishment are going to lead people to love. Show me where that has worked. You cannot lead people to the highest level of motivation by teaching them the lowest. God always and forever models the highest, and our task is merely to “imitate God” (Ephesians 5:1).

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 78–79.

Image credit: What is Ubuntu 01 (detail), Gretchen Andrew, 2018.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. —Howard Zehr
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Restorative Justice

Restoring Relationships
Sunday, September 6, 2020

Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced. —James Baldwin (1924–1987)

Almost all religions and cultures that I know of have believed in one way or another that sin and evil are to be punished and that retribution is to be demanded of the sinner—in this world and usually the next world, too. Such retributive justice promotes a dualistic system of reward and punishment, good people and bad people, and makes perfect sense to the ego. I call it the economy of merit or “meritocracy.” This system seems to be the best that prisons, courtrooms, wars, and even most of the church are equipped to do. The trouble is that we defined God as “punisher in chief” instead of Healer, Forgiver, and Reconciler; thus, the retribution model was legitimized all the way down!

However, Jesus, many mystics, Indigenous cultures, and other wisdom traditions show an alternative path toward healing. In these traditions, sin and failure are an opportunity for the transformation of the person harmed, the person causing harm, and the community. Mere counting and ledger-keeping are not the way of the Gospel. Our best self wants to restore relationships, and not just blame or punish. This is the “economy of grace” and an operative idea of restorative justice.

After being wronged, few human beings can move ahead with dignity without a full and honest exposure of the truth, as well as accountability. You cannot heal what you do not acknowledge. Hurt does not just go away on its own; it needs to be spoken and heard. Only then is there a possibility of “restorative justice,” which is what the prophets invariably promise to the people of Israel (as in Ezekiel 16:53-63; Isaiah 57:17‒19) and Jesus illustrates in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11‒32) and throughout his healing ministry.

While I can talk about restorative justice from the framework of Scripture and theology, this week I will rely on experts in the field. Teachers and practitioners Elaine Enns and Ched Myers define restorative justice and peacemaking as “a range of nonviolent responses to injustice, violation, and/or violence with the aim of

  1. reducing or halting the presenting violence in order that
  2. victims and offenders (as well as their communities and other stakeholders) can collectively identify harms, needs, and responsibilities so that
  3. they can determine how to make things as right as possible, which can include covenants of accountability, restitution, reparations and (ideally) reconciliation.” [1]

We all need to apologize, and we all need to forgive, for humanity to have a sustainable future. Otherwise, we are controlled by the past, individually and corporately. History easily devolves into taking sides, bitterness, holding grudges, and the violence that inevitably follows. No wonder that almost two-thirds of Jesus’ teaching is directly or indirectly about forgiveness. As others have said, “Forgiveness is to let go of our hope for a different past.” Reality is what it is, and such acceptance leads to great freedom, and the possibility of healing forgiveness.

References:
[1] Elaine Enns and Ched Myers, Ambassadors of Reconciliation, Volume 2: Diverse Christian Practices of Restorative Justice and Peacemaking (Orbis Books: 2009), xiii.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 194; and

Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 38, 39.

Epigraph: “As Much Truth as One Can Bear,” (1962) in The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, ed. Randall Kenan (Pantheon Books: 2010), 34.

Image credit: What is Ubuntu 01 (detail), Gretchen Andrew, 2018.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. —Howard Zehr
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