Tuesday, 28 September 2010


I have been reading about the psychology behind restorative practices (see yesterday's post). It's all fascinating stuff but I was particularly intrigued by the work of Donald Nathanson on shame. He states (after extensive research) that unlike many other emotions, e.g. anger, fear, disgust, surprise (described as a wipe-clean of the brain so you just focus on what's there in front of you), interest, enjoyment, etc, shame does not have any chemical or electric biological triggers when it is experienced. Although he admitted it might seem puzzling to some, he described shame, therefore as being simply the reaction to an interruption of a positive feeling or affect.

He saw that shame in his own children usually manifested in their turning their heads downwards and averting their eyes and that they also did this when a pleasurable or interesting experience was interrupted. This demonstrated that shame was not just felt when you did something wrong; it was also felt when a good thing was interrupted. This also explains why victims of wrong doings can also feel shame - as their positive experience has been interrupted. I found this interesting, and like he predicted, it took me a while to 'feel' that this absence of reaction was a possibility.

Then I did think of an example where I felt shame through the absence of positive affect. When I was a student teacher, the primary maths lecturer took us through how best to help children really understand the different numerical processes other than through using routine algorhythms. I actually enjoyed what he was teaching (the nerd in me). It was subtraction one week and we were discussing how you could help children to 'see' that when you subtract a negative number, you in effect add. I suggested that if you take away a negative thing like a hole, you in effect add something. I was enjoying my idea but he told me that answer was 'too contrived' and he carried on. Although I had done nothing wrong, his response stopped me enjoying the debate and all I can describe is that I felt shame! I remember wondering why I had felt that at the time. This chap's description of a break in positive feeling rang true.

Donald Nathanson then went on to describe four different responses to shame.

Attack other - blaming others for what they have done and lashing out at them
• Attack self - where people self reprimandnad blame themselves e.g. "I am so stupid"
• Avoidance- where a person side-steps away from the shame by making jokes or using other distractions. Some of these distractions can be quite damaging such as alcohol abuse.
• Withdrawal - the run and hide response.

I suspect there are gender biases with some of these but he states that 'attack other' and 'avoidance' are the most common responses in our society. The responses can of course also vary in intensity - from full on to very mild.

I would guess every individual has a default reaction to shame and becoming aware of this can help our behaviour be managed. If shame is simply an interruption of positive experience, we probably all feel it pretty regularly!

N.B. I read far more explanation than I have written but the justification of exploring shame in terms if restorative practice is that RP manages shame and negative feelings and leaves an outcome of positive feelings unlike punishment. The relunctance to destroy the positive feeling created by restorative practices means repeat 'crimes' can become less likely for some individuals.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Restorative Practices

Restorative Practices are a 'touchy feely' thing that is evidenced to work and it's happening effectively already in several organisations in the city of Hull, UK. It took one school from special measures - i.e. failing - to outstanding in two years for example and the police are finding it an effective way of tackling wrongdoings and preventing reoccurence.

I'll explain it my way........

OK - so you have done something wrong and you got caught. The 'powers that be' have issued your punishment. Because of the punishment, you feel like a victim because all you can think about is the punishment you were issued. You do not reflect on the 'crime' you committed or the effect it had on others. Nothing has changed other than you feel resentment towards the authority that issued the punishment and you might try not to do the crime when 'they' are around - so your 'bad' behaviour might be occasionally suppressed by fear of receiving further punishment. You might re-commit the 'crime' and all that happens when you are caught again is that you are punished harder. Break the rules and you will be punished - that's the traditional mindset of many schools, courts, police, parents etc. This traditional way certainly does not take into account the feelings and thoughts of those involved. Punishment is done TO you and you have no say in it.

With restorative practices simple scripts/guidelines can be used during 'conferences' - where everyone involved in the wrongdoing attends - to basically investigate
what happened, ('why' questions are not used because they are actually quite hard to answer)
how the wrongdoing affected everyone involved and
what the wrongdoer could do to make amends. (reparation)

Restorative practice goes on the premise that we cannot assume everyone understands the impact of their actions on others. We don't all readily empathise. It is about making people meaningfully face up to the effects of their actions.

It's called restorative because:

•Sense of wellbeing
•Feeling of community
are restored. When these are restored a repetition of the crime is far less likely.

Restorative practices work because people prefer it when those in authority do things WITH them rather than TO or FOR them.

Restorative practices are not about people in authority losing control - they are still very much in control of deciding what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour - but they are also providing a high level of support to help the individuals involved repair the damage they have done and actually create a want in the wrongdoer to remedy the situation by helping them see the impact their actions had on others.

Restorative practices also separate the person from their behaviour. Instead of labelling people as a 'bad lot', restorative practices sees those that get into difficulties as good people that make bad decisions. It trusts people with opportunities to make positive changes in their behaviour.

It works - but I suspect there are those that would have to see it in action before they believed it. Like I have said before - just because a lot of people are doing something (punishing) doesn't necessarily make it right!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Do they have a plan?

O.K. supposing you were in charge of a country, talking completely idealistically, what would you want for that country?

Just to paraphrase: what would a successful country look like in your opinion?

If you were to really think about it you might create a list of necessaries and desirables for this successful country. You might think generally or you might take it down to what every individual might experience when they exist in that country.

This idealist ponders.....

I want this country to give everyone equal opportunities, treat everyone fairly, encourage everyone to reach their potential and live a fulfilled life. This would mean nobody lived in relative poverty and it would tackle a lot of social ills - like crime for example.

What's the plan Mr Cameron?

I'll wheel out Maslow.....