The Act of Repair

Ashil Patel

Professor Joe

English 110

September 16, 2016


Studies show that nearly 32 percent of federal prisoners returned to prison within five years of their release to community supervision. Spelman believes that our correctional system doesn’t have any effect on the criminals, you can put someone in a box for several years but that won’t repair their mindset of being a criminal. “Punishment is aimed not at repairing the harm offenders did to the victims, nor at repairing offenders or their relationships to victims and the community. Indeed, if anything, punishment seems geared to trying to break offenders and to rupture their connection to the larger society not just by putting up all manner of physical, social, and emotional barriers, but by making offenders think that the only consequences of their acts they need to think about are the punitive consequences for themselves” (Spelman 56).

Criminals ruin lives of innocent people and families; they break something that may not be able to be repaired. Just imagine losing a loved one, that memory of what and when it happened will forever be in the back of your head. Families will have flashbacks of the moments they cherished with that loved one, a loved one that no longer can cherish them back. In recent cases Brock Turner was convicted of felony for sexual assault. Turner was a student athlete at Stanford University on January 18, 2015 when he sexually assaulted an intoxicated and unconscious 22-year-old. We expect someone that did harm to this extent to be behind bars, but for this case he is free, Turner only spent three months in a correctional facility. How can someone be able to walk freely after doing something to that extent? “Repair is not about the new. It is by definition about the survival of the old. Repair appears to be not about making progress but about halting decay, about sustaining something after it has degenerated from its ideal state” (Spelman 137). You can’t repair what you did, Turner can’t just wake up and say sorry. His future actions will later be judged for repair, as Spelman says people have to break through continuity, they can’t just forget what happen. “In devastating such paths of continuity, repair appears to be neither a science nor an art another reason, perhaps, for it not being on the radar screen of significant human doings” (Spelman 137). Just imagine the hurt that the poor victim and her family is feeling right now. There’s nothing that can be done to forget what happen on January 18th. A person can look perfectly fine on the outside, but the interior is still damaged, humans have the ability to cover their emotions and make it seem like everything is pitch perfect but in reality it’s not. Not everyone is eager to seek help from someone, so they bundle up all the hurt and try to forget what has gone wrong. The only way to seek repair is to own up to what has happened and get help to relieve the pain, not everything will be fixed at once, it may take several attempts to feel some sort of discloser.

“To think about repair requires us to recognize our own failures and imperfections and those of the world we live in, to take seriously what we may unreflectively be inclined to regard as the necessary but uninventive and uninspiring work of repairing the damage due to such flaws” (Spelman 138). Brock Turner has to think about his failures, he needs to think about the wrongs he’s done. An apology isn’t just going to come over night, he has to change his lifestyle so others can see that the one mistake he made doesn’t define his life.


Reparations and Apologies

Lauren Mellor

Professor Harris

English 110

26 September 2016

A sincere apology requires acknowledgment of personal wrongdoing, while reparations may just involve paying off someone who has been wronged. In Chapter 5 Spelman describes  these difference when she states,

Even if those responsible for the payments are also the guilty party,  neither an admission of such guilt nor an expression of sorrow of regret for their deeds is necessary in order for reparations to be achieved. The reparations process has determined that a certain sum is due the payees, the payers only have to produce that sum. It doesn’t matter whether they feel remorse for their actions (80).

She is saying that reparations are an easier way for people to repair things because they are not putting themselves in a vulnerable state. An apology provides an expression of guilt and regret while waiting for the person who is receiving the apology to respond. Apologies are a two way street because the person receiving the apology may forgive and move on or simply not accept it.This is why it is a lot easier for people to try to just fix their wrongdoings with money or other types of reparations.

Reparations may seem to fix a situation when a person thinks that money can fix anything everything. However, that is not always the case because how can someone be sincerely sorry if they can’t even express their regret? One of my friends had a boyfriend that cheated on her. He thought that buying her expensive gifts and taking her out to dinner would be able to fix the situation because he thought it would show that he cared about her. It was a lot easier for him to just spend money on her then actually open up and explain how sorry he was. Maybe he thought it would help alleviate some of the guilt he was feeling without having to express his emotions. Apologizing would definitely have put him in an extremely vulnerable state because expressing sorrow for a fault he committed was extremely difficult for him.  Yet, if he had given a heartfelt apology for what he did, this would show more maturity and responsibility for his actions. Spelman states, “if reparations means from the side of the payers not having to say you’re sorry, it also means from the side of the payees not being called upon to forgive, not being pressed to forgo resentment” (82). Spelman is simply trying to illustrate here that if there is no apology given, no forgiveness has to be given either. Even though spending money on someone might show that you care for them, it does not show any personal or emotional sorrow to those who suffered the injustice. This supports Spelmans concept of apologies requiring a person to expose his or herself to the possibility of being rejected or ignored which is why many people choose to try and use reparations as a substitute to expressing how they feel.

Money cannot bring back people who have lost their lives or even bring complete comfort back to those who lost someone close to them. Another example of someone choosing to pay for their mistakes instead of apologizing would be when NFL linebacker Ray Lewis was involved with a murder trial in which he was originally charged with stabbing and killing two people after leaving a party. Lewis ended up paying the families of the victims a large sum of money to try to make them feel better, but it would never bring the two men who were killed back. Their families would never get to see them again. They never had the chance to say their final goodbyes. Simply paying them might have shown he cared and felt remorse but no type of emotion or thoughts of sorrow were necessary for him to do this. This further supports what Spelman illustrates throughout Chapter 5 which is the difference in scenes between reparations and apologies. An apology leaves room for the recipient to answer and forgive while a reparations do not involve as many feelings or emotions. Therefore no forgiveness is necessary because he never admitted and apologized for the atrocities he brought to the family.

As a kid growing up, I was always taught that “actions speak louder than words”.  Yet I don’t think that this is always the case. I think apologies speak a lot louder than paying people off. Any time I would get in trouble for something like fighting with my sister, I was taught that I had to say sorry like I meant it. I would have to explain what I was sorry for and promise that I wouldn’t do it again. Likewise, if two kids get in a fight on the playground, an adult doesn’t teach them to go buy each other stuff in order to fix the situation. The kids are taught that they have say they are sorry and that they won’t do it again. So where does this idea come from that paying people off will fix the problem? I think that as people get older and their problems become more complicated, they feel intimidated and are unable to apologize which is something that they learned how to do as a child. Personally if someone wronged me, I would much rather have them apologize to my face than have them just buy me something.

Even though Spelman seems to favor apologies over reparations, she makes it clear that an apology is only sufficient if the person apologizing is responsible for some type of inexcusable action. Spelman says, “Money cannot substitute for the admission of inexcusable wrongdoing entailed by apology, but an apology without acknowledgment of the multiple costs of oppression and exploitation seems unknowing and insincere” (90). She is saying here that you can’t try to apologize for something that you haven’t done. It is completely meaningless to a person who has been wronged when someone else tries to apologize to them for something someone else did. In 1997, Spelman described how President Bill Clinton apologized to the victims of slavery almost 30 years prior. While this may offer some comfort to these victims it is extremely misleading to all those who who were hurt when someone else tries to apologize to them who had nothing to do with the situation. They can’t forgive someone for actions they didn’t do, so what is the point of apologizing if there is not a chance of forgiveness?

Repair is a necessary part of life and as humans we encounter so many different types of repair every single day. Whether it is as simple as an apology repairing a friendship, or as complex as a repair job on a car , it is inevitable, repairing is constantly happening all around us. We live in a broken world where it is part of the human condition to want to fix everything to make it perfect. Spelman talks about the different means of repairing throughout the book and emphasizes the differences between reparations and apologies. Even though reparations and apologies both aim to fix a situation, the degree which they are able to do this differ. Spelman explains how reparations means “not having to say you’re sorry”(78). How can someone completely forgive someone else for an injustice if the person who commits the wrongdoing can never even apologize? Therefore, this never completely repairs the situation if the wrongdoer is never forgiven. Reparations may be able to make a situation better, but a genuine apology shows so much more responsibility and remorse.

Forgive, but Never Forget

Rachel Levine

Professor Harris

English 110-040

September 24, 2016

Why do we fix things and people? What are our intentions? It is quite clear that not everything can be fixed, that not everyone can be saved, and that not everyone wants to be saved. People have flaws and art is unique, so why are humans inclined to fix everything that seems a little different? Elizabeth V. Spelman describes the human reaction to fix things in her novel, Repair, in which she calls Homo sapiens “Homo reparans”.

Spelman describes three kinds of mending/fixing in her writing. The first one is simply called “repair” and this means to maintain a connection to the past in order to move forward. Next, there is “restore”, which is fixing something in a way for the object to be an authentic reproduction of its original form. Lastly, Spelman describes, “conserve”, which is invisible mending. While something like a car can be either repaired or restored, paintings are usually conserved. Can a broken heart ever be completely repaired? Even if it can be repaired, will it ever be restored and be just like new? Can a hurt relationship ever be restored? One can forgive someone who has hurt them, but can they ever forget all the pain that person has put them through?

When it comes to repairing objects, Homo reparans practically have it down to a science. If our car door is dented, do we repair the car by just finding a door that fits even if it is the wrong color? Or, do we restore it by finding the exact part and making the car appear as though it is in new, perfect condition even though it’s not? However, things get more complicated with feelings and emotions. Spelman uses the example of a girl named Jackie, a pregnant teen. She writes,

Persons are by their very nature bound up in relation to others, and tensions and conflicts in those relations are at the heart of moral dilemmas. In order to resolve such conflicts one must focus on the specific situation of the persons involved, on the web of their relationships to people, and on how to keep those relations intact. What is the best thing for Jackie to do, given the nature of her relationship to the man involved, and her social and economic condition? How might her decision affect her relation to her parents? What kind of life would the child have? What kind of emotional and economic support does Jackie need?” (p. 44)

As Homo reparans, we can fix most situations. Jackie can choose to keep the baby, give him/her away for adoption, abortion, etc., but who will help Jackie deal with the stress and emotional pain of any of these decisions? We can fix things and situations, but who fixes us? Who fixes Jackie? Mending/fixing of whichever of the three types, to whatever degree seems like a never-ending cycle. It seems as though in the course of fixing things, other things break; as Jackie fixes the situation, she will very likely be hurt in the process.

As for repairing a relationship, there is no scientific formula for that either. Apologies and forgiveness both depend on the people involved. If the same problem was to occur in two different relationships, the outcomes and consequences in each relationship would probably differ. History plays a great role in this. If there is an argument over a specific problem that two people have never argued over in the past, they’re probably more likely to forgive and move forward. However, when two people have had the same argument over and over again, there are only so many chances. It is very hard to heal a broken heart. Humans are inclined to forgive the people we love, but we are also inclined to hold onto things. Forgive, but never forget. It’s interesting how people can claim to forgive people for things they can’t seem to let go of. When you forgive someone for something, it’s not right to keep bringing up what they did wrong and continue to hold it against them. This is the main reason that hurt relationships can never be completely repaired; people can’t let go.

Everything has flaws, as we learn from a young age that nothing and nobody is perfect. However, we don’t fix everything. How do we, as Homo reparans, decide what needs to be and what doesn’t need to be repaired? Perhaps humans only feel the need to fix the flaws that are visible to other people so that they appear to have no weaknesses and no imperfections. Or, maybe we just fix the things that make us the most insecure since we would never have time to fix every single feature we are insecure about. It is also possible that humans just simply fix the things we can’t stop thinking about, like the relationships we care about the most. It is quite clear that no Homo reparan will never be able to fix everything.

Spelman describes three kinds of mending: repairing, restoring, and conserving in Repair. It seems as though she believes that physical objects are much easier to repair than emotions and feelings are. Some things can never be fixed and some people can never rid of all the pain they feel. What does it mean to restore a person to basic working condition? Is it even possible?

The Analogy of Accepting Apologies

Spelman shows that there are many different types of reparations but while describing these different reparations she also uncovers all of the ugly pieces and flaws of trying to fix certain situations. As many problems as are seen in the book the one that stands out to me is the issue of the broken person having such a large part in fixing a relationship. The reason that this stood out to me so much was because it was the only problem that I had never considered in the whole book. It made me think about the validity of an apology because if a person hurts someone’s feelings badly all they need to do is say sorry and they’ve done what they can do. It then becomes the other person’s responsibility to fix the relationship, the fate of your future lies in the quick decision of accepting an apology. How does one person decide in such a quick moment whether or not they are okay with what someone else did? I was able to understand people being able to accept apologies for small things like maybe breaking something or saying something mean. The rest took me some time to think about.
I had to think of a personal moment when I really felt like I needed to apologize and a moment when I really needed to accept an apology. Once I began to think about these things I almost immediately had an idea for each scenario. Except for this time when I thought about them, I thought about them in a whole new light. When I thought about my apology I never spent any time thinking about how much pressure I was putting on the other person, or how my apologizing would make them feel. Was I person worth saving a relationship for? How badly had I harmed this person’s feeling? I had spent hours trying to make up the words to say in order to plead my case for forgiveness but was that even helping the situation? All of these questions immediately rushed to my head once I began to think about how the apology affected the person who I had hurt. Spelman describes it as “Human relations are such that they can be broken by one party but can be repaired without both parties” (Spelman 98). That shows how unfair the system of apologizing is. If I’m feeling awful because someone did something to me, the last thing that I want to have to think about is my role in making things better. It would usually be thought that the person receiving the apology should not have to do any work at all.
Before I could consider how the other person felt I had to dig back to how I felt in the same situation, which was really difficult because I remembered what Spelman had mentioned earlier that no two situations are alike. So how could I ever know what feelings I had stirred up, but I still wanted to consider my experience in order to compare. What I learned was that the responsibility to decide the fate of the relationship is actually an important part the process. How much do I care about losing the person who has hurt me? Is this going to happen again? All of these questions in such a short time cause a jumble in the head but that’s the beauty of it. The decision that is made is a gut reaction and everyone should trust their gut. A person should come out of accepting an apology proud with what they decided to do. Life is full of tough decisions but that’s the only way to move forward and it makes everyone better than they were before they made the choice. So after all the consideration, maybe the ugliest and hardest parts of repair are what leads to the beauty in life.

Who Needs to be Repaired

Spelman takes reparations to a different level when she starts to indulge in the idea of human reparations. Through much of the early chapters, the main focus is directly on how people have been able to restore tangible items, how different items require different types of repair and how different people master different aspects of repairing. These ideas are more concrete but once the tide shifts to people there is a totally different idea on how to repair. In chapter four there is a large emphasis on criminals fixing their wrongdoings through payments or through incarceration, but none of these truly are able to repair what is said to be broken.
To start, how can a person who has had the tragic experience of being robbed feel better about what happened because they got paid back the money that was taken. There is such a high standard of the value of money that people believe that a simple payment can be of use. Fine, a payment has been made and everything is “fixed”, but then what happens when the victim of a robbery has to walk home again alone late at night? Will there ever be the confidence that nothing bad will happen again? Or will there always be the lingering thought that there is someone who wants to cause harm? Either way, it shows the values of the judicial system oppose to trying to make a difference in a person’s life there is an easier way to handle it. If all debts are paid and those who have broken a law are incarcerated then the problem is done. Almost as if the problem is just being swept under the rug in hopes that with all criminals in jail there will be no one left to cause harm.
Then what happens to the people who get caught and sentenced to jail time? The likelihood of a convict going to prison and coming out mended of their problems is very slim. There is no real attempt to try and fix the piece of society which is the most broken, there is always a reason for a person to have done a crime. A jail cell, with only a couple hours a day to go outside is no way for a person to rebuild their social skills or to help them be set to return to normal society. This is the reason why there are so any repeat offenders in the world. A problem that is overlooked because this person harmed someone else, but who or what harmed them? Unlike a car a person can’t just be sent to a shop, in this case, jail, to be fixed up and sent back out to work as new. People can’t just toss on random parts to a person and hope these lessons will teach them not to commit crimes and to just fit into normal society. As Spelman puts it, “That’s one of the differences between fixing inanimate objects and mending human relationships: The car you wrecked doesn’t need your forgiveness in order to be fixed” (Spelman 85). This a point that is repeated several times throughout the book because of the relativity of the issue. It is what make the entire book come together. Spelman needed to explain in detail the importance of fixing man-made objects in order to further show the importance of maintaining these positive human relations. This is used to highlight the incredible difficulty of repairing a broken relationship or a broken person. Criminals are the perfect example of a broken person, because what makes them different from anyone else? Yet they are treated just like the outside, with no sense of any attempt to rehabilitate them.