In Your Corner

It gets easier to forgive

by Special to The Garden Island

In Hawai‘i many of us have heard the term “ho‘o pono pono.” Pono means “right,” and ho‘o pono pono means making things right. That’s the short version. Kumu Kawaikapuokalani Hewitt states that ho‘o pono pono is an attempt to return to the balance and harmony of creation. We carry that space within us, but when conflicts arise, we sometimes lose sight of it.

The Hawaiian elders knew that what happens in a family affects everyone in that family. When one person would become quite sick, the kahuna (holy person) would assemble the family to have ho‘o pono pono. The kahuna, or elders would begin with prayers and ask for the support from the ancestors of the family, and then get agreements from the family members to be honest, and try their utmost to solve any conflicts that might be leading to an upsetting condition that could be the source of the illness.

Everyone was treated respectfully and everyone was heard. The focus was not on blaming others for the problems, but on resolving conflicts and restoring the family to health and wellness. It could take days. Once the conflict was resolved, the family agreed never to speak of it again. It was expected of the family to forgive each other.

Most indigenous people had such restorative justice systems in place. They understood that when one was hurt, sick, or out of balance, the whole group was affected.

Restorative Justice is gaining popularity in the court system. Restorative Justice focuses on repairing the harm the offender causes to victims and community, rather than focusing on the law that was broken. Sentences may include paying for damages or medical bills, apologizing, working for the company which was stolen from, cleaning graffiti and repairing vandalism. An offender may have to take classes in anger management, substance abuse, or something else. In some cases a victim offender mediation is scheduled so the victim gets to directly tell the offender the pain, suffering, and quality of life that has been lost as a result of the offense and asks for the restitution needed.

Not only does restorative justice strengthen the relationship between the offenders and the community, it gives the offender the chance to make it right and regain some dignity that was lost due to his bad choice of behavior.

At Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Teen Court our respondents are asked: Who was harmed? Who is responsible to repair the harm? What needs to be done to make it right?

Juries listen carefully to the cases and come up with sentences that focus on repairing the harm. The juries are amazing in coming up with good sentencing requirements.

When the respondents complete their sentences, their records are cleared, they are encouraged to feel good about themselves, and to pay it forward by helping three other people make their lives better.

The other side of restorative justice is forgiveness. How many of us carry guilt over past poor choices made, or have difficulty forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply? Yet for our own health and well being we need to be able to forgive ourselves and others. When we have made it as right as we know how to do, and others have apologized and tried to make it right for us, the next step is to forgive. Not to forget or belittle the act done to us, but to choose to release the pain and energy that holding a grudge causes. The emotions of anger, guilt, fear and sadness all zap energy from us; energy that could be used for creating moments of joy and meaning in our lives. Creating moments of joy and meaning in our lives strengthens our immune system and makes us stronger. And as Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is for the strong.”

It gets easier to forgive.

When Teen Court respondents complete their sentencing requirements, it is my hope that they will be forgiven and acknowledged for their time and efforts to repair the harm caused by their offenses, and encouraged to help others make better choices than they’ve made. They are our future.

• Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i staff contribute a weekly column on teen issues.

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