Archive for Restorative Practice

Needfulness: Thoughts on Obedience and Empathy

Posted in Non-fiction with tags , on December 3, 2014 by becciseaborne

There is much that’s contested and disputed over what restorative justice “is” – and what it isn’t. Despite this, I think it’s fair to say that most would agree that at the core of restorative justice – and restorative practices more widely – is a concern to identify and meet the needs of people who have been affected by the actions of one or more parties. Volunteering for Circles of Support and Accountability brings me into contact with people (core members) who have caused serious harm, but who also have significant unmet needs. Meeting these needs will not only support them to have a better life, but will also enable them to manage their behaviour and reduce their risk of reoffending. What also strikes me about many core members is the apparent inability and unwillingness to recognise or address their own needs. In getting to know core members well, the reasons behind this often become clearer, but recently I came across a discussion by Hal Pepinsky which I thought shed some interesting light on the subject.

In his essay, ‘Empathy Works, Obedience Doesn’t’ (1998), Pepinsky makes a powerful case for the dereliction of the concept of obedience as a tool which forces us to subjugate ourselves to the wishes and directions of others, losing any sense of our own needs and inclinations in the process. I find this argument fascinating. It’s not without its problems, particularly in framing it with the logical conclusions he wishes to draw from his assessment (a complete absence of punishment or the requirement of obedience). What his discussions highlight for me, however, is that there is a need for a better balance between what we sacrifice of ourselves, and how we are enabled better to identify, understand and meet our own needs. This seems crucial in order to function in a healthy, balanced, empathetic and emotionally literate manner, as Pepinsky, and many others besides, articulate cogently.

Reading his discourse, I was minded to reflect on my own experiences of addressing needs, what tools I’ve been given to do this throughout my life and by whom. We would all imagine, I assume, that our parents and families would be the primary source of such qualities and skills, followed perhaps by school, and friends. But here, as with so many things, families are able only to pass on what they already possess – any deficit is nearly always inherited. And Pepinsky is right in one very crucial sense; our socialisation is about how to fit in and how to please others. When our baby sibling is born, our parents undertake careful exercises of incentivising our “good” behaviour toward them. And so we learn that addressing someone else’s needs, and pleasing others brings reward and gratification, and that this should become our priority. We learn that attending to the needs of others is more important than attending to our own. It seems to me that very soon, not only will we lose the inclination to engage with our own needs, we may well lose the ability to distinguish between our own needs and those of others at all. We switch our internal gratification through self-fulfilment for a second-rate external version, handed out by others for pleasing them; our fundamental needs supplanted with far shallower, but more amenable ones.

This is different from being compassionate and altruistic, where we are able to work towards the needs of others whilst keeping our own inclinations and requirements in balance with this. Essentially, according to Pepinsky, this is subjugation of the self, and strikes me as being very dangerous. In any given situation, not to know whether our instinct and our decision making is being driven by our own or someone else’s goals creates a deficit in self esteem which can be utterly corrosive, and the consequences far reaching. Every time we undertake an act which fulfils anothers’ needs at the expense of our own, we are sending and reinforcing a message to ourselves that our own needs are less worthy of attention and action than anyone else’s. The result of this, most obviously, is a failure to meet our own needs. This is damaging enough in itself, but is accompanied by a constant downgrading of our own self-worth, and more irrevocably, a further disengagement from our own needs. An additional consequence may be a potentially permanent inability to identify or engage with these issues at all on our own behalf, or at least to be able to separate them from those of other people in any meaningful or useful way.

Pepinsky argues that in such a state of needful disenfranchisement, people resort to dissociated violence and aggression, perpetrating crimes against their fellow citizens. Whilst this line of thought feels intuitively plausible, I would go further and say that there are many people for whom the subjugation created by obedience leads to a very different but equally corrosive dynamic. Imagine, for example, how someone who is unable to make emotional decisions based on anything other than meeting someone else’s needs (without even necessarily being aware of this), would go about creating and sustaining healthy intimate relationships. Imagine how they might fare at work in negotiations with colleagues or business contacts; how they might build supportive and healthy friendships; how they might cope with stressful and demanding situations at home or work. Imagine how they might raise and nurture their own family. Acknowledging and addressing our own needs is, foremost, an act of self acceptance, which is a permission giver in the most positive sense. It enables us to say ‘no’ in a respectful and engaged way; it allows us to put ourselves first, to negotiate, to change our minds, to move on from things, and to feel less guilt about all of these things. It even gives us permission to try – and fail – at things, which is possibly the most important thing of all, especially for core members who are trying to rebuild more positive lives, often in completely new ways.

It is a very slow and complex piece of work getting people to unlearn such an ingrained response pattern, which is usually established in a formative stage of development. For many, it can never be fully undone, but as the cliché goes, awareness is the first step to addressing an issue. So I guess vigilance is the key, and crucial to that, is having the right people walking beside you too. Fundamentally that is what Circles of Support and Accountability is about. As is true friendship.

Ched Evans has Served his Sentence for Rape – Should he Play Football Again?

Posted in Non-fiction with tags , , , , on October 17, 2014 by becciseaborne

In her comments on 15th October, (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/15/ched-evans-sentence-rape), Clare Carlisle encapsulated, to my mind, the essence of the dilemma around this issue for us as a society in our current cultural framework. She identifies our need to find forgiveness (there is so much literature on the healing powers of forgiveness, try http://theforgivenessproject.com/ for information and resources), alongside our desire to set an example and send a message that sexual violence is harmful and wrong. In agreeing with her, I do not mean that victims or survivors should have to find forgiveness towards their assailants; this cannot and should not ever be an expectation placed on those who have experienced sexual abuse. However, no human behaviour occurs outside of or distinct from the culture of the community in which it takes place. As a society we have a duty to understand what has happened in order to find a response that reduces the likelihood of it happening again.

I have worked professionally with survivors of sexual and domestic abuse, and I’ve worked with sex offenders who have served long prison sentences and been through heavy-duty therapy and treatment programmes, who make a genuine commitment to an offending-free life. I have family and friends who have been affected by sexual violence. My thoughts and beliefs here are neither routed solely in the personal or professional (though they partly spring from that place of course), nor are they overly abstract and idealistic. My experiences inform my practice, which informs my thinking, and the same in reverse.

If all we can do as a community is hate, then what can we expect in return but resentment and hatred (however unjustified we might feel that is)? These feelings fuel the sort of permission-giving thinking that leads to sexual violence. Who wants that? Isolation disconnects people from positive influences and the reinforcement of pro-social beliefs and values. What we need is for people to take responsibility for what they’ve done and understand the harm they’ve caused; admitting to these things is difficult for any kind of transgression, let alone something of this magnitude. No one in their right mind is going to do that if they think they’re going to be met with both barrels. That’s human nature, and nearly all of us will have denied something or minimised it to avoid the consequences and the associated emotional stress. We all fear hatred, disgust and stigma. Creating a safe space, by promoting meaningful reintegration into society whilst at the same time not letting anyone off the hook, can go a long way to achieving this sort of shift for people who have offended sexually.

The even better news is that this often delivers things that survivors of sexual violence need too – to be listened to, understood, validated, vindicated. We don’t have to exclude people to deliver these goals and send a strong message to society (and other past, present or future survivors). The message can be, you need to be fully accountable and commit to a new life that will not create any more victims (…survivors).

In the case of Ched Evans, my feeling is that whatever happens should be informed by the extent to which he accepts responsibility and intends to alter his behaviour accordingly. He pled not guilty at court, and put his victim/survivor through the pain and exposure of a trial. This should not be forgotten or left unaddressed. However, there is, in my professional and personal experience, a world of difference between what someone will admit to within in a criminal justice process, and what they may come to explore and acknowledge outside that process, given the appropriate context. The extent to which Ched Evans is able and likely to do this will, almost certainly, depend on the space and support he is given by being allowed to rebuild a life which is connected with his community. This doesn’t mean letting him off the hook; it means seeing the behaviour as distinct from the person and reflecting back to him the hope and belief that he can change and become accepted once more into society.

Katie Russell of Rape Crisis England, rightly highlighted the need for a strong public message that sexual violence will not be tolerated in football (or more broadly); surely nothing could be more powerful than supporting Mr Evans to make a commitment to behaviour change through a full understanding of the damage he has caused? Whilst we must recognise the extent of the damage – on a societal and an individual basis – and respond to the needs of survivors, it does not seem possible to find a sustainable and satisfactory response to sexual harm without engaging meaningfully with all affected parties. I hope Sheffield United consider such issues very carefully, and consult with professionals when considering whether to re-sign him.