Why Leaning into Vulnerability can Foster Growth and Deepen Impact

Restorative justice (RJ) folks talk a lot about shame and vulnerability. Along with making us popular at parties (not), we’re believers in what a growing pool of research is pointing to. Vulnerability has the transformative power to unlock resilience and growth amidst failure and shame. I can personally attest to this. In fact, I can trace my beginning with Just Outcomes back to a vulnerable moment in my professional life. As the newest member of the team, I’d like to introduce myself by telling that story.

Several years ago, a colleague and I taught a five-day course on RJ in the southern states. Within hours on the first day, friction emerged as students’ differing expectations and needs clashed. My co-instructor and I struggled to balance these varying needs with our own expectations for how the course would look. In the end, we pivoted by devoting significant class time to Circle, working to build understanding and trust in the classroom. This is the week I met Just Outcomes Directors Matthew Hartman and Aaron Lyons.

At the end of each day, my colleague and I met on the porch of our lodging to reflect and plan. This was more than an intellectual exercise. Our journeys intersected with the circumstances in our classroom, which required us to do some personal work. On the second night, Matthew and Aaron – who were leading a separate training – joined us on the porch for a drink. Before long, we told them about our course and the challenges we were facing. In this first conversation, I got a taste for the quality of people Matthew and Aaron are. They received our vulnerability with grace and were able to share some of their learnings in return. Over that week, the porch became a place of camaraderie and trust amidst the heavy work we were doing in our classrooms. Through the trust built, it also became a place of accountability. In the classroom each day, were we living into the values we claimed we held over conversation at night? The growth of Just Outcomes now, as I come on board to expand our reach, can be traced to the trust built on that porch.

As I listened to Matthew and Aaron share about Just Outcomes, I noticed many alignments with the work I was doing. Outside of being an RJ educator, I had developed a peacebuilding centre in Ontario, Canada (where I live) that served as an incubator for justice-oriented social enterprises whose work required navigating complex systems. The focus of Just Outcomes resonated with me because it drew a clear line between RJ and systems change work. A seed was planted in my mind then, which has now come to fruition: I have joined Just Outcomes to expand our impact in the eastern parts of Canada and the United States.

This story may seem like a strange way to introduce myself.  I like it because it sets the stage for what brought me to Just Outcomes and the work I’m here to do. There is also a lesson in it. When vulnerabilities emerge, lean in. When we choose vulnerability over self-protection, we create opportunities to build trust and connection. We create a foundation for accountability and transformation. And this story doesn’t end here. As we build partnerships with organizations, governments, schools, and workplaces across Ontario and beyond, Just Outcomes will encounter new growth and transformation. Most importantly, there will be more vibrant and resilient communities being built on the strength of just relations.

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