Speaking Restoratively: a Fearless Narrative

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© Copyright 2018 William A. Bledsoe, Ph.D.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

There are two narratives being told in America right now. One is a fear-based narrative where diversity is interpreted as a threat. The other narrative is one of moral courage. It is a fear-less narrative that celebrates diversity with empathic conviction.

The fear-based narrative is a protectionist narrative which exalts sameness, gentrification and uniformity.[1] Immigration, integration, and inclusion are rhetorically weaponized by political actors to incite terror, foment racism, separatism, and build barriers.

It’s the illusion that exclusion is the only way. To keep America “great” we have to keep “those people” out – even if it means ripping children from the arms of mothers and putting them in cages.

This is a very dark, dangerous and destructive narrative that can only exist in a morally bankrupt discourse rife with hatred, bigotry, and bitterness. Like all false narratives, its power depends on exploiting a primal instinct for survival. It does so with stories that demonize difference. Its power as a narrative relies on the convolution and/or suppression of truth. It’s a defensive and deceitful discourse designed to divide and disintegrate.

The fearless narrative embraces diversity, social ecology, social justice, and the wisdom that integration is the process by which diversity feeds a healthy social organism.

Immigration, integration, and inclusion are not expressions of liberal idealism, but necessary nutrients to a prosperous and vibrant social ecosystem.

Fearless Narrative Fear Based Narrative
Diversity is regenerative Diversity is threatening
Inclusion is necessary Exclusion is necessary
Equity sustains us Equity is dangerous
The “other” is us The “other” is evil

If we believe that diversity, inclusion and equity are not just liberal democratic ideals but cornerstones of a civil society, we need to ask three questions:

How do we teach young people to notice – and care about – the difference between these two narratives?”

 “How can we model ways of communicating that embody the fear-less, care-more narrative?” 

We can teach about the concepts of diversity, inclusion and equity. We can talk about what they mean, their importance, and their inherent moral value. We can teach them as academic subjects. We can even proclaim them as guiding principles. But how do we teach young people to interact in ways that enact these ideals on a daily basis? From a restorative perspective, disagreement, conflict, and incidents of harmful interaction and behavior are opportunities to teach students how to communicate in ways that take these ideals and make them a reality.

How we listen How we question How we interpret
How we respect differences in perspectives How we empathize with other’s experiences How we identify individual and collective needs
How we work through disagreements How we process and express hurt feelings How we enact collaborative decision-making
How we deliberate and build consensus How we brainstorm solutions and resolutions How we create and honor agreements

To build a whole-school restorative culture which operationalizes these values and principles, it requires incorporating restorative communication practices.

READ Restorative Culture: Diversity, Inclusion & Equity in Action 

[1] See Darcia Narvaez, Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture, and Wisdom, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2014)

[2] William A. Bledsoe, Performing Restorative Justice in a College Community: Integrating Navajo Peacemaking with an Accountability Conference Model (Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Communication, University of Colorado 2009)

[3] City of Boulder. (2006, February 28). Code enforcement study session [Memorandum]. Retrieved from http://www.bouldercolorado.gov/files/City%20Council/Study%20Sessions/2006/02-28-06/Memorandum.pdf

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