Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Your American is Showing

By Inga N. Laurent*

In Jamaica, I don’t have a car. This means if I want to get somewhere I walk or take a taxi. During my first few weeks of living here, the resistance I laid down to the acceptance of this reality was monumental. It was almost akin to a deal-breaker for me. I struggled so much with control, factors outside of my control, including traffic and my ability to accurately estimate timing and order my world. I lamented that I couldn’t just run to the grocery store when I wanted; it all felt somehow backward.

What I couldn’t see at the time, now makes me chuckle. In the last few months, slowly and surely and somewhat surprisingly, I’ve been eroding my rugged individualist mentality.

I’ve come to relish my taxi time. Do you know how much of humanity can unfold before you if you stop to listen? Or how many friendships you can make by learning to trust in someone else’s ability to be responsible and on-time? Do you know that in thirty minutes, you can learn about criminal justice, technology, farming, musical instruments, families and lost and recovered dreams?

In Jamaica, I don’t have a schedule. This means I often get lost in reading or connecting with people instead of writing law review articles. During my first few months of living here, the resistance I laid down to the acceptance of this reality was monumental. I struggled so much against my own self, using chiding and biting remarks, fearing my fraudulence, not ok with slowing down and certainly not comfortable with stillness.

What I couldn’t see at the time, now makes me chuckle. In the last few months, slowly, surely and somewhat surprisingly, I’ve been eroding my long-held, entrenched views on the importance of staying busy.

I’ve come to understand that it all adds up in the end. All. Of. It. Do you know what it’s like when you finally trust yourself to self-regulate? Do you know how to relax and enjoy the gifts that life is giving you rather than fighting with them? Do you know how it feels when your mind become sharper and the web of connections fuse because you’ve allowed yourself the space for your beautiful brain to simply do its thing; the evolutionary thing that is composed of eons of innate wisdom ensuring survival?

In that trust, while relaxing, I read the following words from Sebastian Junger and suddenly I understood.

Tribe on Homecoming and Belonging: “This book is about why that sentiment is such a rare and precious thing in modern society, and how the lack of it has affected us all. It’s about what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty and belonging and the eternal human quest for meaning. It’s about why—for many people—war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”

This quote brought me back to my research in some kind of startling way. I am not satisfied merely with an academic discussion of the values and challenges of restorative justice. I am here to learn about it on every level, including the theoretical but also the practical, and not for argument’s sake, but because I believe in human relationships and in our interdependence. I do this work because I deeply believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and I want us all to know that we are so much more than our bad acts and mistakes; hopefully in tumbling around teaching and learning this lesson, I will be able to internalize it myself -- “to be understood as to understand.”

And while self-reliance and time-management have served me well so too have connection and space.

The “root of the root and the bud of the bud” is learning not to overcome my Americanness but to become one with it. To realize that sometimes my individualism serves me better, as I have a penchant for wanting to rely on others perhaps more than I should, but somedays that same trait may block the very connection I need. To realize that somedays the drive to stay busy stems my laziness but that on other days, I need my experience to simmer, so I can meaning-make, stop compartmentalizing and embrace the integration that allows me to be simultaneously messy and seamless. I’m in this time, in this place, exactly where I’m supposed to be, exactly as I’m supposed to be. And you know what my friend, you are too. Every experience, the joyful, the painful, even the ugly and the mundane, brings us closer to our imperfectly, perfect selves.

*Inga is currently on sabbatical from her day job as professor and Externship Director at Gonzaga University School of Law. While away, she is living and researching in Kingston, Jamaica under a Fulbright grant, learning about the shift in Jamaican culture from retributive to restorative models of justice.

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