You've probably seen the image a hundred times before. It's the oldest and most famous of them all. Then again, maybe you haven't, in which case you're in for a treat. The question is what kind of woman do you see in the picture? And how many different women can you see? (You'll probably be wondering what I'm on about now because you can only see one woman - try looking at it a little closer). Most of you, however, know the score. It's down to perspective taking, i.e. there's more than one way to look at something (literally). It's hard though sometimes to adjust our focus. We become accustomed to seeing things in a certain way. Maybe we're part of a group who are used to seeing things in a particular way. Now, even if I want to adjust my view, I run the risk of going against how my friends or colleagues see things. A person, a staff member, a student or someone in our family gets a reputation for being a certain kind of person. I happen to be the "level headed" one in my family. I have a brother then who could offend the Pope and get away with it. If I even raise my voice it's almost a reason to call the UN. We like to put people in boxes, so-and-so is this or that kind of person. Often this is helpful, it simplifies things. We know who to go to if we need a particular job done. Sometimes, though, we can limit the other person (and ourselves) by our one-dimensional thinking.
For the first half of my career in residential childcare, the thing that drove me mad the most was young people refusing to go to school. You'd call them and call them, cajole them, bribe them, threaten them (with loss of privledges, just to be clear). And still they might refuse. It used to drive me bananas. All the time I was simulaneosuly learning about childhood trauma and its effects, but I couldn't transfer it into this particular area. If you like, I could only see one woman in the photo (not telling you which one though in case you haven't figured it out). It probably had to do with my upbringing and values. I always enjoyed school, was always reasonably good at it, so it came easy to me. Ironically, precisely because all this was "normal" to me, for a long time I had little or no empathy for those who had experiences different to me. What was a strength in one way became a weakness in another aspect. I was blind. Worse, I didn't even know I was blind so I actually thought I could see. Thankfully over the years, and with the help and patience of colleagues and mentors, I have come to realise that there are bigger, more important things at play on any given day than necessarily getting a young person to school. This does not mean going soft, or neglecting someone's education, but rather you sometimes have to step back and look at the bigger picture and the longer term (have you spotted the second woman yet by the way?)
What does all this mean for you? And what can you do about it? If you find yourself at an impasse with a colleague or student or family member, maybe it's time to take a second look at how you are describing them. Are they just a "troublemaker" or a "bold child"? Are they really "out to make my life a misery"? If we stick with this narrative we limit our perspective and, therefore, our options. Try asking yourself a few questions:
1. What is (really) happening here?
2. What is the other person thinking/feeling?
3. In what way are they being affected?
4. What do you think they might need?
I'm sure you've seen some of those questions before. I think I've also said before there's more than one way of using them. Of course you can ask them to someone when something's happened. You can also ask them of yourself, though, to gain some self-awareness and ground yourself. And finally, in this case, you can use them to try and imagine where that "difficult student/child/colleague" might be coming from. Try and get into their world for a minute. Maybe there's something else going on for them. This is how we develop empathy and it can change the way we view people and, as a result, the world.
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.