I took a trip down Memory Lane at work lately. I was doing the night shift in the residential care side of my work life with a longstanding colleague. Once the young people were asleep and the jobs taken care of we started to reminisce about all those who had passed through our care over the years (quite a few as it turned out), the "successes" and the "failures". (In reality of course no placement is either a success or a failure, and sometimes those who we think didn't do well at the time are the very ones to surprise us most. Anyway, I digress). As we talked and compared our respective experiences, something struck me about many of the young people I felt I had the best relationships with. Actually it struck my colleague first. As we'd talk I'd mention a certain young person who might, after they'd left say, occasionally phone the center and look for me in particular and I'd reflect on some good memories we had. Then my colleague would remind me of the various "wars" we'd been through. For example, I recalled being invited to an 18th party of a young man who'd left our care a year previous and who I'd played a lot of golf with during his placement. My colleague then reminded me that we'd rarely managed to play the full 18 holes as usually "all hell would break loose". And then it came back to me. He'd usually get jealous if I played a better shot, he'd mock my efforts, get angry at his own, feign an injury to finish early, or just plum walk off the course. Once he even broke a club in anger. In fact it was only towards the end of his placement that he really learned to relax and appreciate his own efforts. He even got to appreciate my efforts once or twice (not they were anything special mind you), which showed to me how far he'd come from the earlier days. It was a similar state of affairs with anything competetive in the center, in that every game of soccer, PlayStation, even things like Monopoly would end in tears. When I looked back I realised I'd effectively had an 18 month running battle with this boy. And, furthermore, it was the same for many of the other young people I recalled. It seemed somehow the more conflict I had, the better the relationship. How was this?
Most of us hate conflict. When I work with staff teams, I often ask for a brainstorm of words associated with conflict and what usually comes up are words like "fear", "tension", "avoid", "fight", etc. Occasionally someone will come up with a work like "opportunity" but usually I have to ask are there any positives associated with conflict. Then, when people start to think along these lines, they start to talk about how conflict sometimes "clears the air", "resets some boundaries", or some other positive aspect. But the negative list always outweighs the positive. This is probably due to the fact that, as a species, we are programmed to get along for survival and anything that interrupts this upsets us. A bit like I said earlier however, in the same way that no young person's placement is truely a success or failure, it's probably fair to say no conflict is entirely positive or negative, except what you make it. Another was this is sometimes put is "conflict is inevitable, combat is optional".
As I reflected on my work experiences and all the conflict I had, I realised that most were handled in a Fair, Respectful, Engaging, Safe and Honest way, or as FRESH as I could make it. This was ever before I knew what restorative practice was (I told there's nothing new in it). So what does it all mean? Am I saying to go out there and cause holy hell, to stir up a load of conflict and all your relationships will be rosy. Far from it. Conflict resolution is a skill that needs to be developed. Conflict can be dangerous and people need to consider their safety and that of others first and foremost. And it does need to be handled with caution. But what if we are avoiding conflict too much in our lives? What if our relationships are too safe (safe can sometimes be false in my experience). What if we took one small step towards conflict, with a new skill we'd learned and looking for the opportunity instead of the danger? What if this improved our relationship in the long run (conflict can sometimes lead to the best relationships in my experience)? What if we took the risk? What if? Food for thought!
My name is Joe Power and I am the restorative practice development officer in Limerick since May 2018. I first came to RP in 2016 when it was introduced to the residential centre where I also work. I thought I would start to write a little about my experiences in developing both my own understanding of RP, as well as my experiences in trying to spread RP across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my 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. Also please e-mail any thoughts/comments/stories you might have to me at email@example.com. Thank you.