Defendants vs. Respondents

In Teen Court and Sentencing Circles “Respondent” is the term we prefer to “defendant.” These students are after all responding by doing the right thing, acting in response to a mistake, to repair the damage their choice may have caused, even, or perhaps especially, if that damage includes their disappointment in themselves.

In a Sentencing Circle it is typical, when asked, for respondents to suggest for themselves more sanctions than a Teen Court jury might assign. Respondents, that is, lean in to responsibility. Defendants get off as easy as possible. Respondents repair, build, serve. Defendants protect, if rightfully, but often only, themselves. Respondents respond. Defendants defend. 

The world needs more respondents. Defend, yes, if you are innocent. Defend, yes, against oppression. Defend indeed against tyranny. Defend against any outrage to your rights or civil liberties. But more often, respond! Respond when called to do so. Respond when you make a mistake and you wish to make up for it. Respond when given the chance to restore your reputation, your good standing in the world, your self-esteem. Respond to evolve your character.

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