I recently had the opportunity to teach Restitution to an organization whose mission is to create partnerships with landowners to conserve wildlife habitat. This may sound bizarre to you, as many people think of Restitution as being a school-based discipline program. I certainly thought that too, when I first learned about it. But as my understanding of Restitution has deepened, I’ve come to understand that it is really about understanding human behaviour and conflict. There is not a single part of my life that Restitution has not touched.
This session was a perfect example of how Restitution can apply to situations other than student behaviour. One of the difficulties in creating the partnerships that are this organization’s mandate is that the parties involved have significantly different needs. The staff of this organization are deeply committed to conservation. They feel passionately that our survival on this planet is at stake. The landowners are trying to make a living, and are concerned about maximizing profits. They have a need for power by being successful in their businesses. It’s easy to see how the conflict between these two needs could easily lead to a stand-off where both sides feel that the other is wrong.
When we solve conflict using Restitution, the key is to find ways to meet everyone’s needs. Instead of arguing over which side is right, we talked about how the conversation would be more productive if it focused on how we can be environmentally conscious while still making profits. And while on the surface, it might seem like there is little overlap in what each party wants, when we move the conversation to talking about what we believe in, there was little doubt that most landowners care about the environment too. After all, if they use the land without thought to the future, their businesses will not be sustainable in the long-term. It was very interesting to see how shifting the conversation to needs and beliefs created opportunity that was not possible when the different parties took polarized positions and were unwilling to move on them.