trust

touchy subject

Hair we go again part2. Right so Mr Key says any ponytail is up for grabs – even a dudes. I find that hard to believe but can respect his belief that he’s an equal opportunity kind of guy. So long as we have no discrimination personal space violation is ok. Once served up on an equality platter it can go with a side of ‘overreaction’ and ‘woops I did it again’.

‘Wandering hands’ aren’t a new phenomenon. The names Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris represent the tip of the iceberg but we all know what is under the water that goes unnoticed and can do significant damage. But because these cases are so extreme our consciousness defaults to a pony tail pull as ‘harmless’ and I can see that in comparison, it seems trivial. But what is lost in all of this is the experience of the person on the receiving end – gender irrelevant. You don’t have to look too far to see the insidious way ‘just being friendly’ and a certain level of power enable people to go unquestioned and those who are upset, offended, become fodder for ridicule and shame. People stop coming forward to report incidents of harassment, abuse or bullying because of precisely what has happened hair.

My sense is we are moving more towards ‘blaming the victim’ culture, by ensuring context is overplayed and individual feelings count for nothing other than to direct them to ‘what they should have done’ instead. The onus is on those who are hurt to ‘get over it’ and this is a dangerous message. Taking responsibility is still watered down and diluted to the point where those on the receiving end are painted as asking for blood rather than a simple human to human acknowledgement that I hurt you and understand why you are hurt. Understanding this as strength rather than weakness is an under appreciated ethic.

Whenever I talk with people who have been abused one thing has always stood out. The person who did the abuse (I’m not about to debate what counts as ‘serious’) was always someone who had respect of others, was viewed as friendly, usually funny and outgoing (but not always), and often maintained a level of esteem in the community. Why? Because it creates a shield of trust.

I’m not saying Mr Key is one of these people, nor am I saying he couldn’t be. That is the point and it needs to pierce the shield.

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Dancing In The Dark

This is a bit of a part 2 to my recent thrashing of dance as a metaphor to explore restorative practice in schools. My apologies if it’s getting a little overcooked for some but I will stay with it as there are lovely parallels if you dare to take the floor with me.

I mentioned in part 1 that I dabbled in ballroom dancing as a teen, and those who know me personally will probably find that hilarious. I was also seduced by contemporary dance at university for a short period of time and tried my hand at choreography with mixed results. While I enjoyed the classes I often had a tinge of envy for those who had a bit more of a base. Picking up the steps seemed to require far more concentration and effort than some of my peers who looked like they were bored, stoned or possibly both – yet managed to pull out the sequences well ahead of me. I would often ask them for help, and ask them to slow things down and did a lot of repetition – and it helped.

Choreography is fascinating. Studying various styles and techniques developed and feeling how these shifts in energy and the use of the body allowed me to appreciate the skills needed to become and accomplished choreographer and produce works of moving art. Dancers who study for years under a particular style move with those distinct patterns and flourishes that have been worked into an unconscious level. Moving through the steps and movement of restorative praxis follows a similar dynamic. Where those who have studied rigorously at the school of traditional disciplining practices will move in a particular way, their steps will be precise and definite. Much like ballet that has a long history and language with familiar transferable expectations. People can recognise ballet when the see it. Traditional school discipline practices to me seem a lot like ballet – if you get my point (insert cymbal crash).

The role of the choreographer is to design and create – be the architect of the movement sequence. Sometimes they will have an end point in mind a sense of definite outcomes and how things should look. This high level of control and precision leaves little room for error and means the dancers must all be clear about their role and trained appropriately so they can dance the steps expected. In fact a choreographer will choose dancers they know have the expertise and necessary skills to complete the movement and hoped for outcomes.

School leaders are much like choreographers with a selection of skilled dancers among their staff. They might need to see them perform in different contexts before assessing their ability to carry out the restorative steps. But if a team of leaders cannot agree on the steps or style of dance being performed or communicated with the dancers, one being given one set of movement the others a different the sequencing, and flow and energy of the relationships between the dancers will suffer. There will be confusion and concern about who has got it right. Sometimes choreography is done in collaboration with dancers, allowing their expertise and knowledge to enrich the process and foster a sense of ownership so that those performing have a deeper connection to the overall feel of a piece of work.

My hope is that those in schools who assume the role of choreographer of restorative practice have the ability to recognise when they are putting dancers through sequences that do not fit their style. Because even the most accomplished ballet dancer is likely to look like someone having a seizure if they are asked to do hip hop. No amount of hoodies and baggy pants are going to cover that up.

Oh and if you had a certain tune running through your head reading the title – well done – The Boss says now DANCE! Any style will do.

Stuck in a rut? – ride it out, bail, or bunny hop

I often hear people say they are ‘stuck in a rut’ but wonder how many of them have actually experienced it in the literal sense. I know its an oft used phrase but for anyone who rides a two wheeled vehicle off road – motor or pedal powered, the actual realities of being ‘stuck in a rut’ are far more interesting.

My initiation to mountain biking was in Dunedin in the early 1990’s as a student. No suspension, just a solid steel frame with no fancy bits. Signal hill was gorse lined and ruthless with deep ruts and unforgiving corners. One crash and you were squeezing red, inflamed pustules weeks later from which would emerge long black spikes like something out of a horror movie.

But learning to ride ruts was crucial. I remember the desperation and powerlessness as my bike slid into a deep one, pedals barely staying clear of the clay either side. I lacked the skills to bunny hop out and really had no idea – I freaked out and made friends with the gorse. The more I rode ruts the more I realised that being stuck in one was part of the adventure, a bit like life.

So here are some things I learned about riding ruts in clay that might cross into some metaphorical, mystical life lesson, mantra or not. First there were times I would be able to avoid them and if I fell in one I would relax my hands because any tension would result in fighting the front wheel, causing the inevitable. Keeping my eyes up on where I wanted to go helped to shift not just my visual focus but my mental focus was ‘there’s where I want to go rather than ‘oh no, I don’t want to hit that’. Surrendering control might sound a little extreme but certainly altering and adjusting my awareness and responses to what control was going to be useful. Ensuring my weight was on my pedals, keeping relaxed and trusting those great knobbly tyres would bite when they needed to helped me negotiate my way out and avoid a later date with disinfectant and an even later one with prickle extraction.

Being stuck in a rut isn’t usually so adrenaline laden, but a rut is a rut and sometimes getting out of one is less poetic – stopping, getting off and lifting my bike out was also a tactic I used. No shame – and definitely less pain.

Return of the village people

I just know some of you are quietly singing YMCA, In The Navy or Macho Man, it’s alright to bust a move – I could never get the ‘C’ in the right direction. This eclectic and iconic group made adult dress up permissible. Thank you Village People, but what village did you come from?

Cities are strange places for those of us who grew up in towns or villages. When I think about the population of New Zealand creeping up to the 5 million mark, I realise how ‘village like’ we are compared to other more densely populated countries. But does ‘size matter?’ when it comes to developing a closer sense of community.

Growing up in a town of 4000 in the 70’s and 80’s had some special effects on me. When I tell people where I was born they sometimes look at me and their expression usually mirrors a mix of pity and surprise, as if I have overcome some terrible obstacle in my life.
I like returning home, hanging at the local markets and seeing who I might run into, kind of like a High School reunion but without the weirdness. Those connections no matter how long I have been away still feel strong because of the unique nature of how those relationships develop. But I believe those factors can be replicated in large cities because despite their overall population, people generally have a ‘local community.’ At the very least, neighbours! I’ve noticed more and more city dwellers embracing and valuing simple acts of kindness, conversation and reaching out that dissolve the sense of wariness and need for complete anonymity at all times – even from their Doctor (joking).

What are some of the ways this is happening? How can you get some small town magic in your life? Here are a few tips, but be warned – it comes cheap. Yes you heard right – it is easy and free.

1: First of all define your ‘community’ it might be the street, block or suburb.
2: Greet everyone like they are a long lost friend or family member even if they look ‘dodgy’ – try not making assumptions based on how someone looks. Ok so maybe a bit over the top, but at least acknowledge people in the street – I’ve developed a series of casual greetings – the simple smile, Hi/Hey smile and the ‘top gun’ wave (reserved for on my bike).
3: Share stuff if you have too much of it – especially fruit, garden produce. I loved going with my Dad to deliver fish as a kid – generosity doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.
4: Share skills and time – not out of expectation of the favour being returned like some form of time bank – no – just offer if you see or perceive it might be accepted. I am forever grateful to our neighbour who recently saved me from a giant spider…it turned out to be fluff blowing out the ceiling crack but he saw the funny side – love him for that -a unique shared experience we have bonded over.
5: Ask for stuff if you don’t have it – the old borrow a cup of sugar thing – but if you aren’t a baker or have no use for sugar – power tools, ladders, toilet paper…maybe not
6: Neighbours are better than house alarms – let each other know when you are away, feed pets, water plants, collect mail (don’t read it!).
7: Let kids play on the street – if you want cars to slow down, don’t do it artificially, I know it sits a bit uncomfortably with safety but it works. Clearly I am not talking about main highways or busy streets.
8: Learn the names of local pets. Greet them as in 2.
9: Read the local paper – finding out what is news worthy is one of the fastest ways to get a feel for your community.
10: Exercise locally, run, walk, ride, whatever it is you get a chance to observe without looking like a stalker.

Developing trust and respect require interactions and take time to develop. It’s become a popular idea to develop values by ‘serving the community.’ I think this is partly in response to a genuine concern that we are somehow losing compassion, caring for others. I’ve noticed a proliferation of ‘service based’ projects particularly for young people. But I’m not convinced ‘doing service’ is the same as being ready to be of service. It seems to me, doing things for others has become a pathway to recognition and status, it is something to put on the CV. Self-interest and a an almost ‘evangelistic’ fervour around ‘helping others’ is unsettling. This is where altruism gives way to narcissism because of a strong Ego undertone.
That is not to say young people aren’t out there just doing what works. The Student Army after the Christchurch earth quake is a good example.

If you want to serve – join the Navy, you don’t have to be a Macho Man. But if you want to make friends join a group, team, perhaps check out the ‘YMCA.’ Sorry, I couldn’t resist.