- Restorative Justice -
Today I interview another multi-talented and inspiring Australian with a great sense of purpose and vision for those in need - John White. John and I have become good friends, and I particularly admire his work in restorative justice. He is one hellova an interesting bloke to chat with. Mind you, he and his wife, Jenny, own a magnificent property they have developed in Western Australia - Magpie Ridge; a beautiful, tranquil, 60 hectare property 9 kilometres west of the village of Toodyay in Western Australia’s Avon Valley, and about an hour's drive from Perth. Once part of an old and degraded sheep farm, Magpie Ridge is now largely reafforested and restored to use as both ‘land for wildlife’, peaceful retreats for singles and couples, and production of premium quality extra virgin olive oil.
Welcome, John ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY.
I was born into a farming family in 1948 in a little wheatbelt town in WA. At age 3 moved south to Mt Barker with parents where Dad worked developing farms for returned servicemen, and developed his own little farm in his spare time. Had a great life as a kid growing up in the bush. Became a high school dropout at 16, worked seasonal jobs including apple packing, tractor driving, rouseabout, wool presser, wool classer, shearer, piano player in a dance band, night club singer and DJ to mention a few. My professional journey began when there was a significant downturn in the wool industry and I went to city to retrain as an Industrial Arts High School Teacher. Whilst teaching I became aware of the needs of non-academic and troubled kids, and moved from the classroom to Outdoor and Vocational Education. I also trained as a therapist because these kids were coming to me for help and I didn’t have a clue what to do. After 12 years in the education system I moved into practising psychotherapy full time with a church agency and, later, in private practice combined with contract work with a couple of local NGO’s.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED IN YOUR CURRENT JOB?
For the last 5 years I’ve been working part-time – still in the wheatbelt – as a Resilience Support Officer. It was a natural transition from straight ‘counselling’ as there are gaps in services in rural and remote areas that need to be filled by generalists. In the preceding 8 years in the area I had become well known in the ‘industry’ and the move was sideways and onward.
WHAT’S INVOLVED IN YOUR JOB?
I offer a free, mobile counselling service (Government funded) around the Central Wheatbelt – an area of 110,000 square kilometres – visiting folk who are struggling with pressures of life in the bush. There are unique challenges out here. Isolation, absence of services most Australians take for granted, seasonal uncertainties, no control over prices of produce or input costs, financial hardship and the usual stresses of relationships and simply being human. Most times I drive. But, to some outlying areas, I fly a light aircraft on my rounds. (When I was 21 I spent every cent I had ($800) and qualified as a Private Pilot. Been flying ever since).
One of my other passions is voluntarily facilitating restorative justice programmes with inmates and victims of crime in a couple of our state prisons.
WHAT’S RESTORATIVE JUSTICE?
Our present so-called ‘justice system’ is, simply, retributive; it’s not just at all. It asks three questions: which one of our laws was broken, who is guilty, and how much shall we punish them?
Restorative Justice – true justice – asks three different questions: Who or what has been hurt or damaged, what healing and repair is required, and how will we, the community, provide that? I am all for the latter. It is wisdom, it is just, it is compassionate, it is fair and honourable to everyone, it heals and restores all involved in a destructive event, and it costs a fraction of what we spend on retribution. Restorative justice doesn’t blame, judge and condemn. Nor does it minimise the damage caused by destructive behaviours. It requires offenders to fully accept responsibility for their actions and do whatever is in their power to fix what they broke, pay back what they took away, heal what they damaged and, as far as is possible, reconcile and bring together what has been disintegrated. Of course, ideally it requires people who have been hurt by crime to make some of those actions possible. But, even if ‘victims’ refuse to be involved (as most do, sadly and to their ongoing suffering), ‘offenders’ are able to effect restoration within the limits of their opportunity and resources.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK?
I enjoy engaging with people in activities of the heart, soul, mind and body in order to create abundance in our human experience: joy, peace, contentment, oneness with all that is, healing, creativity, meaningfulness in life and relationships, progressing towards the fullness of our unique potential as individuals and members of our communities. Psychotherapy, at its deepest level, is ‘healing of the psyche /spirit / soul / essence of our humanity’. Of course, as you would imagine, I’ve had some argument with the ‘therapeutic’ community from time to time, many of whom have no real experience of the ‘mystery’ of our essential nature as human beings, preferring to remain in the illusory ‘safety’ of the ego – intellect and, thereby, missing the boat. I don’t enjoy that our humanity has been medicalised by much of the psychological / psychiatric / medical community. I do enjoy engaging in real time, with the real person – the ‘soul/ spirit’ – on the real issues of life, ie, true self-worth / self- acceptance (NOT self-esteem – that’s about ego and won’t take us anywhere useful), oneness, meaningfulness, love, seeking truth, wisdom, compassion, humility – all the things that deep in our hearts we all desire and that actually make life work! I enjoy this kind of engagement equally in both paid and unpaid work.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
The hardest thing about my job is assisting people to realize the need to unlearn their learning and step beyond the so-called ‘normal’ way to be, ie, attached, dependent, stuck in body, mind and ego only, desiring ‘stuff’, working to ‘achieve / acquire / accumulate / impress’ / etc. Anthony de Mello was right; most people don’t seem to want to ‘wake up’ and actually live. I feel frustration and sadness about that.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE?
I’m not sure about the whole past life thing. I don’t know if there is such a phenomenon. I do believe that we are eternal spirit, never born and never dying but, as for how that spirit is deployed, I’ll leave that up to the One who owns the game. I don’t think it matters that we know about such things; what does matter is that we live each breath and each moment of our lives as if they are the most precious gifts possible.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BE WHERE YOU ARE NOW?
That is a broad question. Where I am geographically was inspired by a desire to heal a piece of land, replant much of it to natural eucalypt forest, build a comfortable home from natural and recycled materials (straw bales, bush poles, and recycled almost everything else), welcome people in any kind of need of retreat and healing, grow and produce organic olives and olive oil. We’ve done that.
Where I am spiritually / philosophically was inspired my many people over many decades – some known to me as personal mentors and friends, many unknown to me who were seekers and writers of the great classics. The list of those is long, features the ‘gurus’ of the past several thousand years, and embraces true seekers of all religious persuasions. Their inspiration has led me to seek and practise being ‘present’ to each moment. I’m not very good at it, but am committed to the practice, firmly believing it to be THE way to contentment, peace, abundant life and hope for the world.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
A colleague in the restorative justice work said that my involvement in RJ was probably my greatest achievement. I think that’s probably true. Of course, under that ‘achievement’ is a gift I received in the form of an ‘inner prompting’ to seek truth, justice, compassion, Reality. So, my greatest ‘achievement’ was to say ‘yes’ to that inner prompting and continue to follow to this day.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’ve got a few things on the go. I’ve started two more non-fiction books that I hope to finish sometime. As with my first book, ‘No Bars Hold’, both are to do with being fully alive and free from the effects of the externals life throws at us. I would also like to record about 3 albums of songs I’ve written over the years. I’m also tweaking our new website (www.magpieridge.com) and planning to put some downloads on it that people may be interested in. The big project of the moment is to sell the farm and locate and purchase a yacht that Jenny and I can live aboard for some months each year. We’re feeling the need for being near water for the next bit of our lives. We’ve done some sailing in the Med with friends and I did some ocean racing decades ago. Hearing the call to head that way again.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
People who live lives outside the mindless box in which so-called ‘civilised’ society has encouraged and coerced us to bury ourselves. Modern high profile people like Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and Mandela, together with the ‘no-profile’ little people bravely living their everyday lives, unnoticed, unsung, but in loving service to other human beings and to the fragile planet we call home. I am also hugely inspired by the ‘mystics’ of all persuasions, the central Truths evident in all mainstream religion and philosophy, by the faces and innocence of children, the acceptance by most dogs, the night sky, and the whole, amazing world and universe of beauty and wonder.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN YOUR WORK?
Experiencing people ‘waking up’ – becoming aware - , breaking free from destructive patterns of thought and behaviour, and getting their own, unique, real life of simplicity, joy and contentment.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I don’t have a single standout favourite. And most of my favourites write non-fiction and from the Christian and Zen mystical traditions. Many of them wrote many centuries ago, part of the great awakenings of mysticism. They include the Syrian Desert Fathers and Mothers of 6th Century, and later Europe’s Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Jean Pierre de Caussade, Meister Eckhart and others and, more recently, William Johnson, Lawrence Freeman, Kahlil Gibran, Anthony deMello, Richard Rohr, Eckhart Tolle. All those are in the Christian tradition. Perhaps my favourite Buddhist writer at present is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, teacher and peace activist during the Vietnam War. Why are they my favourites? Because they are in general agreement about the central issues of being human and, as they have lived what they teach, they are trustworthy signposts and guides on the path to life; they feed my soul with Universal Truth and hope of becoming fully who I am designed to be.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A CLIENT?
One or two Vietnam Vets said ‘you saved my life’.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT?
I can’t remember a ‘worst’ comment. Perhaps I’m in denial or have conveniently erased it. I really can’t think of one.
OTHER THAN YOUR WORK, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I love my wife, kids and grandsons, riding motor bikes, flying aeroplanes, sailing yachts, the beach, the desert, playing guitar and piano, writing songs, travelling, drinking home-made whiskey and beer, silence, stillness, reading, meditation, company of ‘like souls’, magpie song, camp-fires, memory of 5 Italian girls picking olives.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Not being required or asked to do anything for anyone.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
I’m pretty sure I’d like it to be a physically attractive, spiritually connected, mature, capable, intelligent female who knows who she is, is not needy, is comfortable in her own skin, and enjoys a balance of company and solitude. I haven’t met many like her. She may be an illusion…
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Please wake up and see that we are one nation on this planet, nation-states are arbitrary and destructive divisions, all the resources of the earth belong to us all to be shared as any has need, that the intellect is to be subservient to the heart and soul, that money is a slave not a master, that violence only ever produces violence, that love is stronger than fear, that you get rid of enemies by making them friends.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Keep breathing one breath at a time and being aware in each moment, do less, ‘be’ more, love, give what I am able to that is life-giving in any way, sail some oceans, read, meditate, be still and content with whatever is my ‘content’ at any given time.
WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO YOUR GRAVE?
Not meaning to be flippant but I don’t plan to read in my grave. I’d rather leave in the world the book of ‘a life lived reasonably well’.
WHAT’S THE FUNNIEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
I was teaching a pretty young girl to water ski. We had a long ‘bar’ that we were both hanging onto. I was responsible to get myself out of the water and virtually ‘lift’ her out by lifting the bar she was hanging onto. All she had to do was keep her skis basically straight. While the boat was dragging us through the water to pick up ski speed, the water washed my willie out the leg of my bathers. Fortunately she was focussed on what she was doing and I was able to rectify the matter without ‘grossing her out’.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Looking back at the volume of words I’ve written, I’m in a bit of conflict with my Confucian belief that ‘he who speaks doesn’t know; he who knows doesn’t speak’. So, no; nothing to add…
WHO DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
I admire those who peacefully and courageously absorb wounds they receive rather than seeking revenge, those who prefer stillness and silence to constant activity and noise, those who see themselves as one with the Oneness of the universe and steadfastly care for it as best they can.
WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST FRUSTRATIONS?
People who whinge, blame, criticise, judge, condemn, make excuses for themselves, don’t accept full personal responsibility for their actions, expect others to make their lives work for them, and the world to give them a living. And, of course, I am frustrated with myself when I am guilty of the above immature behaviours.
IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO CHANGE ONE THING IN THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
It would be to have all leaders realize that they are prime-servants and lovers of the people and planet and not masters and abusers. If I could change two things, I’d also ban temperatures above 35 degrees…
PS: John is the author of a book entitled, 'No Bars Hold', which is available in paperback, hardcover or as Kindle. It is a worthwhile read:
Clancy's comment: I forgot to mention that John has CD's of his music available. Just send him an email. Thanks for sparing the time for this interview, John. Keep going, mate. Have a few whiskeys for me ... and then some.
Love ya work!
Think about this!