It's been a while since I mentioned tai chi in this blog, so I thought it might be safe to come back to it again today. One of the principals when you do push-hands (a gentle form of sparing in tai chi) is that when your opponent pushes, you pull and when he pulls, you push. This principal is also common to a lot of other martial arts. It's also good advice when going toe to toe with a teenager. Seriously, have any of you ever won an argument with a teenager? I haven't. I have quite the catalogue of glorious defeats however, as well as some Pyrrhic victories - that means though that even when I thought I'd won, I'd actually lost, usually through a damaged relationship. Equally I don't think I ever lost a battle when I was a teenager (or as a child for that matter) with my parents. When I was seven or eight my mother once "spiked" my spinach (which I ate at the time) with cabbage (which I didn't eat) and then gloriously proclaimed her "victory" afterwards. My response? To no longer eat cabbage OR spinach ever again. (Sorry mam, you were and are great in every other regard). The point here is you cannot, nor should not try to win with force or trickery. In fact, if it's winning your after, you are in trouble.
All well and good but what do you do when you've a teenager blaring his music in the bathroom, trying to wind up another teenager who's in his bedroom across the corridor, and who just wants to go to sleep? (The good thing about 17 years experience in youth work is I will never run out of stories). The backdrop to this was an ongoing argument between the two, and one stubborn teenager who was out to cause as much irritation as possible that night. Appealing to logic, reason, empathy was not working. I was just another "staff". Threats were not likely to work either. He was already resisting the other young person who was in his bedroom, it was only a small step further to resist me. Some of you reading this will already have their sense of "fairness" offended and be calling for "something to be done". That's understandable. My sense of fairness was also offended. I too wanted a "result". The question is how do you approach someone who, in theory, is holding all the cards? After all, he had the radio on, the door locked and bolted. There was little, or nothing, I could do to intervene in a "traditional" way. So, like the tai-chi principal in push-hands, I "rolled" with it. The conversation went something like this:
Me: (Knocking on the door) Hi Conor (not his real name). Can I talk to you?
Conor: Hey Joe. What's up?
Me: (The music is still very loud at this point) Hi Conor. I'm trying to do a bit of work in the office next door here and the music is a bit distracting. Any chance you could turn it down a bit? (There was no point mentioning the other boy's name as that was only likely to lead to a distraction and an argument)
Conor: Ah, I'm just trying to relax and enjoy my music Joe. You know the way?
Me: I know the way Conor. You're relaxing and enjoying your music. I get that. The thing is, I've a need to get some work done and I need to be able to concentrate on it. (I listen to Conor, reflect back what I've heard to show him I listened and then lay out the facts, in a calm and friendly fashion. Then I ask the question that get's Conor to do the work for me).
Conor, I wonder is there a way you can relax and listen to your music, AND allow me to concentrate more and do my work?
(A question demands an answer, and now Conor has to try and figure out a response. By making him part of the solution, he has nothing to rebel against).
Conor: Ah, Joe I just want to listen to my music. (To which I just repeat back my previous line and question again. He has nothing to "fight" against)
It took a few more back and forths, of essentially both of us repeating the same thing. He wasn't going to just going to turn the music down straight away. But, I wasn't fighting back, so he didn't know what to do. I was listening to him, showing I understood him as well but, crucially, I was then involving him in the solution phase. And, now that he was being asked the question in a reasonable way, he had no option to eventually suggest that HE would turn it down. When I asked straight out at the start, he resisted. Now, by inviting him to come up with the solution, he did it himself.
It won't always work, but it worked a treat that night, and I had my "result" far quicker than if I'd come in with the big guns of threats and consequences. Place responsibility back where it belongs, include those who make problems part of the solution, work "with" people. Have less stress and more success.
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.