At IJC, all of our programs emphasize the centrality of relationship building in the work that we do. It’s also a term that gets used in many different ways by various different groups; the common denominator, I think, being the intent to show concern for human welfare. In Winnipeg, police cruisers are flanked on both sides by the inscription building relationships while restorative justice programs (like Touchstone) talk about building healthy therapeutic relationships with participants. Clearly it is important for us to define how we understand the term “relationship building” given the vast difference between the work of the Winnipeg police force and that of our programs.
At Touchstone, I think the term has specific meaning for each worker and looks very different for each “participant” “worker” relationship depending on many external factors and the unique experience of each individual. My first understanding of relationship building came from Jean Paul Lederach. In his book, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, he writes, “when relationships collapse, the center of social change does not hold. And correspondingly, rebuilding what has fallen apart is centrally the process of rebuilding relational spaces that hold things together” (75). For me, relationship building in the context of restorative justice means that as the justice system continues to isolate people and collapse relationships, we resist those destructive forces by working for social change through repairing “what has fallen apart.”