Have you ever been asked to explain what RP is and failed miserably? I know I have, especially since I am new to this job and a lot of people are curious to know what it's about. So I've been asked about a dozen times or more what I do and what RP is and somehow failed more often than not to give a convincing explanation (quite a frustration when you are meant to be the RP developement officer whose job it is to teach the stuff). Usually it goes something like this: Well wisher: "So what's RP about"? Me: "It's about an alternative to just punishment, looking at the harm caused to relationships and how they can be repaired by mutual dialogue and understanding, while still holding people to account". Ok, it's a bit wordy I know but I feel like I'm giving a general overview of the approach and how it differs to traditional punishment. But boy, is it getting lost in translation. Sometimes you'd swear I'd started working for Irish Water. More often than not I'm catapulted into a Liveline-style debate listening to people talk about the need for harsher sentences, setting examples and how softly softly doesn't work. So what is happening? Are all my friends and family militant right wing fanatics all of a sudden and I never knew it? I hope not! Maybe it's back to my chunky explanation (six weeks is not that long and I'm quickly beginning to change my pitch). There's got to be something else going on. I've given this a bit of thought and said I'd share what I've come up with and see what you think.
Here's what I think. People are so conditioned to the "leniant versus punitive" dictotomy that they can't allow for alternatives to it (at least not in a 20 second soundbite). So it's like this; if you are anything other than for punishment/consequences/harsher sentences, people automatically assume you are at the other end of the "leniant versus punitive" scale, i.e. you are leniant, soft, a "bleeding heart liberal", etc. No other possibility exists for a huge number of people. It's beyong their experience, their comprehension, their world view, whatever way you want to put it. So what to do? I've considered taking around a flipchart and pen and launching into the social discipline window each time I encounter the problem, but am keeping it in reserve for now pending finding something less taxing on my back. I could go full Joe Duffy/Neil Prenderville and take them on in an argument but am sure my manager is reading this, so kind of need to actually practice what I preach. So that leaves me only one option; using the language of RP, listening to people's concerns and worries, maybe putting my own agenda and beliefs into storage for a while. Yes, as I write this, it becomes all the clearer. Listen, empathise, connect, build relationship. Then, with the person's permission, start to promote the alternative. God, it sounds hard too, when you believe something so strongly, to have to show patience and understanding and work with someone. There's that word again "with". I know that's in the RP theory somewhere.
Ok, problem solved, or rather problem identified and solution decided upon. Will let you know how I get on. (And if you have any tips yourself, send them on. It's either that or carry a flip chart around).
My name is Joe Power and I am the restorative practice development officer in Limerick since May 2018. I first came to RP in 2016 when it was introduced to the residential centre where I also work. I thought I would start to write a little about my experiences in developing both my own understanding of RP, as well as my experiences in trying to spread RP across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for other's to benefit from these thought (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it. Also please e-mail any thoughts/comments/stories you might have to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.