"When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world".
Author: Unknown Monk 1100 A.D.
Learning RP is a lot like the message in this famous poem. To do it right, you have to start with yourself. There are many ways of viewing this course of action, i.e. that of focusing on yourself first. At the beginning (and still occasionally) it's frustrating, as you probably see this as unfair. After all, you're not the one who's doing the harm, you're not the one who's talking in class/bullying/lying/stealing/causing trouble. Why do you have to change? You see things that are unfair and you wish it otherwise. There is a drive to confront things head on. In this sense changing yourself could also be viewed as a cop out. "They (the other) should know better". "They must be challenged". "They should be the one to change". (And, maybe they should if it's a serious issue and someone is being harmed). But, instead of challenging them, you're focusing on what you can do differently? Then again, to "challenge" someone who's not ready, someone who's at a certain age/stage of development, or someone where you know your intervention will be poorly received could cause harm in itself. At times like this changing yourself becomes almost an act of faith. Can you stop and see things from their perspective? And then can you devise an approach that's likely to meet everyone's needs, and that results in the change you wanted originally? Some, of course, see it in purely logical terms. I mean you can only really control your own behaviour (and we do this badly ourselves enough of the time if we are honest). How then can we expect to control others? It's just, logically, an impossibility. Over time I have come to see the process of changing yourself first, in the hope of changing others, as liberating. Allow me to explain.
A natural consequence of working with the traumatised and troubled youth I've worked with is that you will meet challenging behaviour on a regular basis. Over the years, I have been kicked at, spat at, roared at, harassed, threatened and frequently just ignored. I've gone through all the emotions above. I'm sure most of you reading this have had some of these experiences. Where there is more than one set of needs and wants, there WILL be conflict.
I had such an experience lately. Having asked a young person about his attendance in school, I was on the receiving end of a bout of verbal abuse, followed by the earphones being plugged in and me in no uncertain terms being tuned out by the young person. Who needed to change in that moment? Arguably the young person, but maybe that's not the most useful starting question. A better question is possibly "who has more chance of adapting their behaviour?" The odds were with me in that one. In this case I was first able to attend to my own pain/hurt. (I am fortunately not so used to this behaviour that it does not hurt). A small amount of self reflection and self acknowledgement allowed me to come to the conclusion that this was not really about me, that I could sooth myself and then attend to the real issue. That's not as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot of practice and learning from mistakes in fact. The impulse to protest and/or deliver punishment (which would have made things only worse) needs to be over-ridden. Once done, however, the rest becomes surprisingly easy.
The young person, after a period of quiet and calm, was able to regulate his behaviour enough to see that I was not a threat. After a small bit of listening to his concerns (which were there in the background) I was then able to deliver my message. I told him that his reaction to me was hurtful, and that's as a trained, experienced and pretty sympathetic professional. I said he was unlikely to receive such a response anywhere else and he needed to use his time to learn better ways of coping. Had I tried to go down this road with him 10 minutes earlier I'd only have fanned the flames. Now I was able to deliver a fairly hard-hitting message to a calm teenager. How? By changing myself first. All this is liberating in my view because I no longer feel the pressure to get instant conformity. In fact, I don't even feel pressure to get conformity in the long term. This doesn't mean I don't keep my boundaries and expectations, I absolutely do. But the pressure is reduced, for me and the other, and this is what brings the change more often than not.
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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.