Any Elton John fans out there will immediately spot the hijacking going on in that title. To Elton, Sorry is of course the "Hardest" word. And I am not here to debate the great man. Sorry can be incredibly difficult to say. I can think of a half-dozen times right now where I couldn't (or wouldn't) say sorry, and where doing so would have made the situations so much better. Pride and Shame, or some interplay of both, is what usually stops us. So, no question Elton, sorry is the hardest word - well, maybe 99% of the time. (Ok, I said I wouldn't argue but I need some wriggle room here). You see, there are times when sorry is quite easy to say. Times when it's too easy to say. Times when it's a cop out. This is what I'm getting at. And I had a small example of this just yesterday, which I'd like to share with you.
I was dropping my three children to the GAA Cul Camp in the morning, and had the 6 and 8 year olds in the back seats. The 8 year old had a pen belonging to his younger brother in his hand and (every parent reading this is already ahead of me here), the younger fellow grabs it out his brother's hand. Cue "Daddy, daddy, daddy" and shouts and screams. (Part of this story, by the way, is also about the magic of the restorative questions which, amazingly, continue to work time after time, after time. Anyway, I digress). So, we're on the way to Camp as I say and I'm hoping to take a short cut with my restorative questions and wrap this argument up quickly. So I ask the 6 year old what he needs to say. Cue "Sorry". (Every sibling reading this part is ahead of me here, and knows that's waaayyy too easy). And, sure enough, the 8 year old gives a very adament "apology not accepted". As I said, I knew I was talking a short cut.
Last week I spoke about the need to change ourselves and our approach first, rather than expecting the other person to change, so that's what I did. Fortunately, the restorative questions are permanently etched in my consciousness by now, so I backtracked a little. I asked the younger fellow what he was thinking when he took the pen?. "Nothing" was the reply. Fair enough, he's six, he's going to be impulsive. "Well, now that you are thinking, what do you think about the fact you took the pen back like that?" "I'm thinking it could have been worse?" Fair enough too I suppose. He's six and wants to highlight the positives. And minimise his mistakes. "Ok, you're right, it could have been worse but, it could have been better too. What could you have done that was better?" "I could have asked for it back". The 8 year old, who was listening to the whole conversation (which took about 60 seconds by the way), then adds "apology accepted". Never mind, that there wasn't actually a second apology. He no longer felt anger and he was happy to move on.
Maybe this is too small a story or example, but I don't think so. If the questions aren't transferable to the smallest things, they are of no benefit. To me this was evidence that restorative questions work, as well as evidence that a "sorry" at the wrong time or just in isolation is worse than useless. My 8 year old needed to hear what his brother was thinking at the time and needed to know he had taken stock of, and responsibility for, his actions.
As a postscript, I was curious to ask the 8 year old why he had accepted an apology when there was none, while rejecting the apology that actually happened earlier. Of course, I knew roughly why, but I just wanted to see what he'd say. He had to think about it for a second, as this was 8 hours/a lifetime later for him. "Because he was saying other stuff". It's the "other stuff" that matters just as much, or more than, the "sorry".
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 others 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.