“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein
I came across this quote from Einstein lately. I had only ever associated him with his theory of relativity and the proverbial E=mc2 and had never known he was actually an early RP advocate (I told you this stuff is nothing new). As it turns out he was extremely well read in religion and philosophy and gave a lot of serious thought to those matters as well as his physics. The quote itself brought to mind many of the difficult behaviours I have experienced in my now 17 years (how quickly they build up) of residential childcare work with some of the most traumatised young people you could imagine. How often had I "enforced" peace? Rarely, if ever, I suspect. More often than not the most successful outcomes were achieved with the result of the understanding Einstein quotes (and with the benefit of some hard-earned experience and the questioning of some of my beliefs along the way).
The following example wasn't the worst behaviour I'd encountered but I thought of it first, probably because it came so soon after my training in non-violent communication (there's a reason I keep mentioning this book by the way) and because the outcome was so successful. There were two young people at the time in the residential centre I was working in and it was bedtime. Suffice to say, these two boys were not friends. In fact one had been making life particularly uncomfortable for the other for quite some time, to the point where Gardai had been previously called for assistance. This young person went about having a bath this night, directly across the hall from the other boy's bedroom, and saw fit to put on his music at a level such that he, the other boy, the staff and anyone within a two mile radius could hear. By now I suspect heart rates among some of you reading this are starting to go up. (Admit it, you want to kill him?) It was clearly a provocative act, designed to infuriate the other boy and, as a staff, I was powerless to intervene in any physical sense (firstly for the obvious reason of child protection, secondly because our young man was by now securely locked in the bathroom and finally, because he was rarely in the habit of listening to staff anyway). Except we are never truly powerless.
I knew any "rational" appeal to fairness or decency, and especially any mention of the other young person would end in the volume going up and failure, so I focused instead on his own stated desire to listen to his music and relax. I showed him I was listening by reflecting back the words he was telling me, careful to also adopt a tone of voice that was patient and understanding. Once I had let him know that I understood his needs, I then told him that we (staff) had a need for peace and calm so we could do our own work. I then invited him to consider how we could both achieve our goals, i.e. the young person to relax and the staff to do their work in peace. It is my experience that if you look for a "win-win" you will find you usually achieve one. Similarly, if you believe there is only a "win-lose" at stake, you will usually achieve this too. After a few minutes of more or less repeating the above statements in different ways (repetition is often needed to get a message across, especially to young people with trust or trauma issues) he was opening the door and suggesting we talk downstairs. As it turned out he had other things on his mind and the antagonising of the other boy was just a way to invite conflict (something he was an expert in) and distract from his worries. When presented with a calm presence, who sought to understand rather than challenge him, he was unable to keep the argument up and peace ensued.
Some of you may say, what if it didn't work? What if he ignored me? Well, to be honest my approach would still have been the same. I would still have shown him I was willing to listen and, to me, that would have served to hasten the day he finally would let me listen. And, on that night, as there was someone else being affected, I'd have moved then to the other boy to find out what his needs were.
That's restorative practice
My name is Joe Power and I am the RP development officer for Limerick. I thought I would write about my experiences in developing my own understanding of RP, as well as in trying to spread it across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my own and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for other's to benefit from these thoughts (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it.