Start and end a conversation with two words.

“You should . . .” 

If you start a sentence with that, you are ending a conversation with me.  I was just born with this independent streak.  I can not stand to be told what to do.  Yet I have this aggressive, competitive, “be the best” spirit and that must mean I need to listen to someone!  Examining why I was so offended by the person who started and ended a conversation with those two words, led me to the thoughts in this blog.

Many of the young people who come to restorative justice, have had some sort of conflict with authority.  More clearly the ‘law’, which translates a negative interaction with ‘law enforcement’  then the ‘criminal justice system’.  All these stages, involve a relationship to the authority and often times, it is negative.  We all have authority in our life, in one way or another.  We deal with relationships that bring us obligations.  From being a United States citizen to being a Mother, our relationships shape and define us.  We are relational creatures. 

What is the difference or similarity between ‘authority’ and ‘obligation’? 

We choose our relationships that bring those obligations.  We elect the relationship or we are born into it (spouse/parent).  Authority on the other hand, can come with those relationships or it comes from systems around us.  For our young people, authority begins at home, then school, then further school, work and as we age, more autonomy and less authority.

The Juvenile Justice Coalition of Minnesota, recently published Diversion-Manual1, which includes delinquency that begins with pathway called “authority conflict”.  PS- This is an excellent resource for promoting diversion programming!

My defenses rose from hearing “you should”, and I felt like I was at the end of someone’s finger, and being scolded.  I had to remember this was offered in the spirit of helping me.  I responded as kindly as possible.  My reaction bothered me and I thought of it later, and looked for the lesson for myself in it.  Restorative Justice helped.  I realized that even when we speak to young people in the “spirit of help”, they may also feel as I did: dis-empowered, angry, confused at my own feelings.

Further analysis and I realized this: I got defensive, because I didn’t have a relationship with the person offering me advice.  The same goes when young people are expected to obey authority, and there is no relationship.  Some young people do fine with authority, others are more like me, and need more relationship.

Relationship building is glue to a group.  A group of students got to know each other in Circle.  Soon, they were feeling safe and began to open up.  Stories were shared related to life experiences that helped us really deeply know each other.  The students also related to questions about cliques, very openly.  They shared experiences, and by relating experiences we build relationships.  Those relationships become the bonds that allow others to move from authority to those we are in obligation with.

We honor our obligations because we select them.  Build a relationship with a person, especially a young person and your authority becomes more effective.  Be authority by being authentic about who you are.  Spell out the pro’s and con’s of the other persons choice, weave in how you will also be impacted by the young person’s choice.  (Instead of dishing out the “you should . . .”).