Theory of trouble
Jul 24, 2009
by Dan Van Ness
The very interesting website Restorative Resources has this great quote from the organization's director:
"If, by the time a student has graduated high school, they have not gotten into significant trouble at least three times and found a positive way to resolve it each time, I suggest that their education is incomplete."
As the father of a recent high school graduate, I'm not sure that I would have wished for my son to get into significant trouble three out of the four years he was there, but I get Clifford's point.
The quote is part of Restorative Resources' introduction to what they call a Theory of Trouble. The point of the theory is that we grow most by making mistakes and learning from them. Typically, we try to learn on our own, and the lesson is often how to stay out of trouble without stopping the behaviour that got us there in the first place.
But with the right kind of guidance, the mistake or trouble that young people get themselves into can become a valuable learning experience. This usually means that there is someone who can help them understand the world better as a result of the experience.
There is another kind of trouble beside the kind we get into, and that is the kind that happens to people. Victims experience trouble, not because of their own fault but because of another person's action or criminal negligence. That kind of trouble can also be an occasion for growth. Or not.
Howard Zehr writes in Changing Lenses:
When victims are unattended and their needs unmet, they often find it difficult to put the experience behind them. Victims often relate their experiences vividly, as if they happened yesterday, when in fact they may have happened years ago. Nothing in their experience has let them really overcome. Instead, the experience and the offender still dominate their lives. The victim is still denied power. And the damage is not limited to individual victims; it is shared by friends and by others who hear about the tragedy. The open wounds result in increased suspicion, fear, anger, and feelings of vulnerability throughout the community.
So often neither the victim nor the offender is able to resolve the trouble well. Not unless there is a genuinely restorative response to both. Their needs must be identified and addressed. So, too, must their responsibilities. This is best done when someone helps them talk together about what happened, what needs to be done to make things right, and what the future should look like.
Restorative Resources' treatment of the Theory of Trouble ends with these paragraphs:
In our culture, restorative workers serve like a lifeguards who are trained and willing to go into those “deeper waters” where others are floundering.
But to be true to a fundamental vision of “restorative” we do not simply rescue others. Instead, we swim with them in a way that helps them discover their own capacity.We believe in them, that the capacity is there, and we believe it deeply enough that we do not suppress it by doing too much.
This is a way of understanding empathy. Ours is not a prescriptive practice, but is rather a cooperative process, more akin to community organizing than to social work or therapy.
We are guides, helping people and communities come through times of trouble in a way that better leaves them better equipped to engage the fullness of life.