"I’ve always been a kind person, or at least that’s what it looked like to others" - vince sanderson, wales restorative APPROACHES partnership

I’ve always been a kind person, or at least that’s what it looked like to others.

His name was “Josh”. We all have a Josh in our lives, that one person that manages to get under our skin. He pushed my buttons to no end. Granted, he wasn’t the most difficult person I had ever worked with, but there was something about him that jarred. The sly smile, the insolent way he looked at me. It wasn’t one thing, it was everything. Every comment, every look, managed to somehow annoy me. But of course, I didn’t let him know that! No, no. I was a professional, I had these thoughts and feelings about Josh, but he didn’t know… did he!?

It so happened that one day, his name happened to be brought up in conversation with a colleague, and to my aghast, they said “Oh Josh said to me, Vince doesn’t like me”. Now here’s the funny thing, my first thought wasn’t: “well I’ll be!” It turns out he’s a great reader of body language, and subtext. He can see straight through me, that’s quite advanced for his age. I’m impressed, and I really should do something about it…!”

No, my very first thought was: “Well that’s not true”!

Unfortunately, it was. I simply didn’t want to admit that my professional façade had holes in it. All of the negative thoughts I had about this person leaked out via body language, facial expression, tone and subtext. It wasn’t what I was saying, it was what I wasn’t saying.

I had a choice to make, blame Josh for “making” me feel this way, furthering my resentment towards him and weakening my professional façade further. Or, taking responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings and try to approach the relationship in a different way.

I would like to think, if I had known about ACEs at this point in my career, things may have been different (but being honest, I was most likely too stubborn for it to make an impact back then). If I worked with Josh now, and knew that he was impacted by ACEs, it would make a difference in my thought process and it may make a difference in the actions I take. But here’s the important part, I don’t know if Josh was impacted by ACEs or not and it doesn’t matter. Yes, I said it doesn’t matter! It should make no difference to my own thought process and actions when working with him. Why?

Because if I had known he was impacted by ACEs, I may have been more compassionate, kinder and more patient, not a push over, but more understanding. But, and this is a big but, I’ve worked hard to retrain myself to act in that manner and to think that way whether I know of their background or not.

It’s my choices that make the difference to those individuals. It’s my ability to look past their behaviours to see what may be going on for them. It’s my job to try and separate the person from their behaviours, and see them as just that, a person. And when they display difficult behaviour I try to bring them closer, not push them further away.

So, over the past two years, I have been travelling around South Wales delivering training to Teachers, Support Staff, Social Workers, Police Officers and Parents, highlighting not only the importance of understanding ACEs, but the importance of treating people equitably. And that starts with us.

I don’t claim to know a lot about ACEs, I make reference to it in my training (restorative approaches) in order to make professionals aware of it and signpost to more experienced networks. It encourages me when I see lightbulb moments for staff, when it may explain behaviours they see, or challenge their own preconceived ideas. Maybe, these difficult people I work with aren’t behaving like this just to wind me up. Maybe, just maybe their behaviour is a symptom and not the cause.