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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Restorative Justice in personal relationships

This is the Spirit of Detroit. I grew up seeing it whenever my grandparents would take me downtown. I love this statue; it's the most glorious and meaninful of those I've ever seen--perhaps because my loyalty to Detroit is deep; perhaps because it stirs nostalgia.

The Spirit of Detroit represents Justice. We all want justice unless we are the violators of it. If someone steals something from us, "We want justice!" If a public official abuses his/her position, "We want justice!" We see the pursuit of justice on every level in our social organization--from the courthouse to the schoolhouse (in Chicago, we even have a school called SOCIAL JUSTICE). Some schools, in response to the School to Prison Pipeline, have adopted "restorative justice" practices to respond to students who violate others and/or relationships within a school community.

The principle behind restorative justice is as follows: The only way to pay back the "debt" (physical, emotional, mental violation of another) and "re-balance the scales of justice" is to "right the wrong" through retribution. The idea is not necessarily "eye for eye", but rather the admission of guilt and an act of humility that will restore the one who was hurt by the violation. The only way to re-balance the scales is to attempt to restore that which was taken from another.

In our school, and others that practice this type of restorative justice, perhaps the fitting act of penance for a student who steals another student's ipod would be to 1) admit to the crime, 2) return it, and 3) extend a public apology to the entire community, which was disrupted by the act of stealing. I would think that most of us would agree this is an appropriate (minimally) response to a student stealing,right? In fact, would it be possible for these students to be friends without resolving the violation? I think not.

In the same way, when there is violation in personal relationship, whether friendship or a romantic relationship, we must "right the wrong" if we ever think that any level of friendship is within reach.

I was talking with two different women this weekend about CRAZY things their exes did. One's ex BLEW HER CAR UP (LITERALLY!). Another's ex took things from her--things upon which she relied upon for livelihood. The latter friend and I have talked often about how FRIENSHIP with an ex who does insulting, disrespectful, cruel, and selfish things is not attainable UNTIL and UNLESS that person fesses up to the wrong, is real about what he/she did, and then makes it right. Lots of people try to just gloss and skim over things they do wrong to another. They avoid. They run from conversation. They are emotionally violent through IGNORING that the other person still exists. WHy would we expect anything less than "restorative justice" in a romantic relationship, family relationship, or close friendship?

Some expect that "time will heal all" with respect to violations they commit against others to whom they were once close. Time does not heal; confession, restoration, and forgiveness heals. Time just allows us to bury things and temporarily forget or construct compartments in our minds to help us ignore nawing feelings.

I was once told by someone who hurt me: "Just be a grown up. You gotta deal with that on your own". The person didn't want to "hear me out" for whatever reason. I have extended forgivness to that person, but a restored relationship is not possible until there is transparent and hard conversation. The friend whose ex stold very valuable possessions won't be able to just pop back into her life after a little time. NO! He has to admit wrong, even restore what was taken financially, and ask forgiveness. Sure, she's gone through her own stages of healing, but not until the other party extends retribution, that relationship cannot be restored. Forgivess doesn't require both parties. Relationship does.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Casual" Gets Old--Literally

The conversation started with my brilliant, anthropologically bent buddy and ended with A over another whole red snapper on Love Day. My friend and I were talking about love and commitment and the lackluster lure of "casual". He told me about an article he found in the Onion: "Casual Sex Only Rewarding for First Few Decades". For you readers who don't know what the Onion is, it's news satire at its wittiest.

Casual Sex and/or dating. Gets old after awhile?

What is the fate of serial daters who resist commitment into middle age (or close to it)? It depends. Disclaimer: This is all anecdotal. No experimental design or research conducted here. Some wind up with a "baby momma" (or "baby daddy") or two or three and then just have such complicated lives from balancing so many angry women (or deadbeat dads or good men who are trying to start other families) that he's too exhausted to have a relationship that goes into committed love. (Please note: There is a difference between "baby momma/daddy" and "mother/father of my child". There are some highly evolved individuals who are able to be cooperative and cordial--I just happen to see a lot more of the other variety).Others somehow have a change of desire or orientation, want a serious relationship, but then find that they're "optioned" to frustration, cynnical, or that lots of people who they find intellectuallly and socially compatible are already taken (young co-eds are frustrating--I know from experience. I've been approached by men 10 years my junior and could barely stomach ONE DATE). Another group finds themselves in the abyss of the middle agers who look middle aged and who are no longer sexually attractive enough to be as successful in casual dating and sex. Protruding bellies, receding hairlines, atrophying muscles, yellowing toenails just make it hard to be a winner at a nightclub.

Yesterday, I woke up from a groggy nap to watch a few minutes of one of those Prime time adult cartoons--maybe Family Guy? The episode's comedy was rooted in the tragic life of one of those single "forty somethings" who let good women get away from him and then spent his days in dingy "wife beaters" stained with wing sauce, watching tv, drinking beer, and occasionally lamenting lost loves.

Though the character's bachelor misery was exaggerated for comedy's sake, I can see how that can be a bachelor's fate. What is casual dating based on? Hot, fun, detached sex or socializing. People who casually date aren't looking to shower another with support, time, a listening ear, investment. So if casual dating and sex is all about physical beauty or short term interesting exchanges, it makes sense that when a person no longer offers a young face and body or enegy to party late and long, he/she falls off the market.

Additionally, I still hold firm that healthy humans want to be known fully, yet loved. We are generally afraid of letting another see the fullness of our humanity--how broken, imperfect, "stank" we are. Yet, we still want to find "SOMEBODY" (see Depeche Mode's link friend reminded me of this song yesterday). A casual date is not going to hold you and just love on you when you lose a friend or family member. A casual date won't let you cry to him/her. A casual date might judge you if your house or car's a mess or if your outfit just doesn't quite work. Most of us generally won't even ask a casual date for a ride to O'Hare. We get tired of casual dating by our middle years. It's just too exhausting, and we want the security that is characterized by sitting in holey socks and sweats on the couch on a lazy Saturday morning. But the comfort of sitting in holey socks with bed head takes effort to reach.

Am I saying that single people older than 30 will wind up with big bellies with food stained t-shirts, become lonely animal hoarders, or miserable? Absolutley not. In fact, if I don't marry, I think I will be a ridiculously cool single person--running half marathons, maybe cool locs, ageless, strong, rock musician, a good aunt,sister, daughter, friend (but definitely not spreading myself thin in casual dating). It seems, though, that those who do single well at middle aged don't trifle in casual flings but rather invest themselves in family, career, and good friends to keep growing personally.

Seems that the older we get, the more "casual" gets "old".

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Part II

Do you ever wonder, as I do (but I do, GENERALLY, think too much), how people can be be "IN LOVE"enough to agree to vows and marriage on some bright, happy day, and then, somehow, end up in bitter divorce, name calling, and tragically, in some cases, homicide?

How is it that a man can murder the woman who he once loved? How is it that a man can spit on a man whom she once kissed with those same lips? How does this happen? These are not rhetorical questions. I really think about this a lot. How does love end up in hate?

I don't have a lot of experience in this. I TRIED to have a boyfriend my senior year in high school; but Mom and Dad shut that down quick. I once snuck out to be with him, and of course, Jr. Holy Spirit (aka, "Mom") somehow found out. I was terrified the whole drive home. She tried to be slick and asked if I needed a "morning after pill"--she just wanted to know if I had done "it" and was trying to use some mind bending momma manipulation on me. Everything calmed down when I, in my terror, quickly blurted out that we were only up talking all night. While we didn't have curfews and weren't on tight leashes at all (my parents rarely asked where I was going because they trusted me so much), dating was frowned upon. Mom would say we had too much to do as adults (AND AS AN ADULT NOW, WITH LOTS OF RESPONSIBILITIES AND LIFE TO LIVE, I FULLY AGREE. WHY DO TEENS DATE!?!?!?) and that "dating" for 17 and 18 year olds was pointless since we couldn't really do anything but EXPERIMENT.

So, we had lots of male friends and we were encouraged to spend time with them in the presence of our parents, other teens, or those boys' families. I didn't date at all in college. I know weird. Well, no, I take that back...I TRIED to date a couple of guys, but apparently, I was "too nice" (both tried to come back when they were ready to marry, but I was "done" by then). I dated one friend in my adult years--it didn't work for reasons I do not wish to discuss in this venue. Sure, I've had countless dinners, business meetings, coffee dates, an evening out, etc with men, but multiple "I'm so in love but now I'm not" encounters to understand how this goes...not so much. So, how does it work? What happens that turns intense fiery red hot love into fiery red passionate HATRED? I do know a couple of people who don't hate exes--but there also didn't seem to be mutual love. In the cases that I've seen where there isn't hatred, one or both parties were just being casual. I do know people who have been mutually in love and are friends, or at least cordial (like Uncle B says, holding onto unforgiveness is just too much negative energy).

So what is it that turns love into hate (sometimes murderous)? Disappointment? A feeling of being abandoned? Used? What is it? Resentment because of a feeling of being trapped?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Part I

Why is it that most people don't talk to their exes? Some people can't even bring themselves to pucker their lips to utter an ex's name. A couple of girlfriends and I joke about how we might just physically jump one of their exes (he hurt all of us when he walked away from their relationship--and we're all just kinda not getting over it as maybe as quickly as Jesus would want us to) :)

"A" opened my eyes to WHY there is such painful separation and distance between "exes". We were sharing a whole, head n' tail n' all red snapper at Havana Libre, fixed in a very intense and deep conversation about LOSS.

You see, loss generally hurts, or at least, disappoints(unless it's unnecessary weight). There are, however, distinctly different losses. There are losses that are natural, and therefore, by nature, easier to accept. Then there are losses that are V I O L A T I N G. Straight up nasty...raw, oozing, bloody, just plain ole' nasty.

The loss of my grandfather was one of those natural losses. My grandfather helped raise me. I have such vivid memories of him being up at 5am drinking his caramel colored coffee while preparing his Sunday sermon. I remember him force feeding me pig ears. I remember his happy songs. I remember him sitting on the porch, whistling nonsensical songs on our Westside Detroit block. When he passed, I was filled with grief, but I was also able to stand proudly at his funeral and talk about him with great strength. THe loss of our wonderful patriarch was painful to all of us, yet is was a natural loss--he lived into his 80s and lived a full life. Understanding that we all must pass that way, his death was a loss did not feel like a defrauding thing.

The loss, however, of a dear friend, husband, wife, lover, boyfriend, girlfriend, confidant--not through death but due to his/her lack of desire to stay in your life--is a life shattering loss. I have plenty of friends who are in counseling, been in counseling, and need to go to counseling as the result of this kind of loss. Some people don't ever recover from broken heartedness and think that physical death is the only way to find relief from the shattering loss of unrequited love. As the character Mayah Hayes from Defintely, Maybe asks, "Did you know that 35 people try to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge each year, most because of broken hearts?"

When you invest all of your resources--time, money, education, skills, talent, friendships, career,etc--for the strengthening of another because you are committed in every way to that person, and they don't show appreciation, reciprocity, or even accept that investment, and eventually pull away emotionally, and then physically, the loss of that relationship feels violating (wow. that was a serious run on). Of course, the most evolved of you readers--those who have reached Nirvana (or maybe just in denial) may argue that true love has no expectation. That's another entry. We're talking about those relationships that do require reciprocity. Most of us would not stay in friendships or dating relationships in which we gave extraordinarily and the other person just took, took, and took. Just not reality. Why is this kind of loss violating? Perhaps because there is no death or other uncontrollable force that separates the two? A person willfully walks away, and in doing so, MAY communicate, "I just don't want to be part of your life to see what happens to you. I just don't want to walk alongside you. I just don't want the responsibility of supporting and encouraging you." The loss feels like abandonment, not the natural course of loss that happens through death.

Loss of a relationship through death (unless that death is suicide), is involuntary on the part of the departed. However, when a person who, for a season, claimed they loved you (and maybe even married you because of that love, makes a baby with you, used to bring you Theraflu when you were sick, used to enjoy meals with you, used to dance with you, used to talk to you about your career and life plans, just "ups" and does't care about any of the aforementioned any more, that's VOLUNTARY. And that mess HURTS. VOLUNTARY AND VIOLATING. Some would argue emotionally violent. How did you used to care and now you don't? What does that communicate?

I'm not saying that relationships should not end voluntarily. I'm not saying that at all. I just think that we should dig deeper to explore why certain losses cut us to the core...and maybe try to do it less to people?? maybe?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Let's Stay Together"--WHY?

Inspired enough by my late convo with a brilliant friend of mine over nectar mexicano, and clearly inspired enough to push through this migraine and fatigue from shovelling out of Blizzard 2011, I want to invite us to think through what would keep a postmodern couple together. Disclaimer: The migraine is really shortcircuiting wit. This is going to be quick and to the point.

Seriously. Why would two relatively wealthy (as Americans) individuals, whose distinct, horrifically equally dysfunctional upbrinings, full of the complexities of humanity (present even in the strongest families), AGREE--in fact, VOW, to stay together FOREVER. FOR-EVA'? FOR-eva eva??

Most of us have grandparents who stayed together--even if they couldn't stomach each other to sleep in the same bedroom by the time they had reached their 70s--both were present at holidays, birthdays, family cookouts. I've occasionally heard of divorced grandparents--that just feels weird when I hear those stories. Our grandmothers stayed through infidelity, emotional absenteeism, and many, many CLOTH diapers (my grandmothers had 13 and 6 children respectively). Our grandfathers stayed through hard, long hours at factories, mortgages that seemed to never be caught up, and sheer monotony (they NEVER saw the world as many of us have).

My anthropologically bent friend believes it was sheer social turbulence that kept our forefathers locked in holy matrimony. Simply put, they NEEDED one another. Rent couldn't be paid on one income. Immigration into a new country was too lonely and hard alone (beyond economics). Partnership was viewed as a way to "make it"--a way to stabilize.

Now, we all "single ladies" and "can find another you in a minute". Women can afford to buy their own properties. Men continue to and have many options. We can choose from many different "options" and as soon as we get bored or are just not "feeling it", we can move onto the next. We're marrying later and we're divorcing more frequently. And why would divorce not be the logical solution if you're not getting along, feeling bored with the monogomy (oops, I meant monotony), and especially if you don't NEED the other to "make it" in this country.

Is it true? Did our forefathers stay together out of sheer need? or did something deeper (and more romantic and noble) keep them together? Now that we're financially independent, have all kinds of racial, educational, personality and body type options, do we feel compelled to have shorter relationships that aren't expected to last the long haul? What's the benefit of "forever"? Why "forever"? Pros? Cons? Pros and cons to 1-2 year flinglationships?

Why is it so hard to take Al Green's advice to just "STAY TOGETHER"?