Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Potential Solutions to Violence

There are many many books written on how to lead and create change. Of all the books that I have read on this topic the framework that appears to be the strongest to me is presented by the authors of Influencer. This book sets out a simple and intuitively appealing approach to creating change.

Step 1. Focus on Vital Behaviours. In most change efforts people tend to focus on the outcome they want to produce. Influencer recommends focusing on behaviours that need to change. Not just any behaviour but a limited number of high leverage behaviours, typically the most difficult to change, so that when they are changed it will cause a significant ripple effect.

Step 2. Make Change Inevitable by utilising as many influencing strategies as possible. They identify 6 key sources of leverage working on a persons motivation to change and their perceived ability to change across personal motivation, social enablers and structural enablers.

So how would you apply this model to the issue of violence?

Identify Vital Behaviours.

What makes a vital behaviour vital and how do you "discover" them? On the Influencer website, David Maxfield one of the book authors says that a vital behaviour has three critical characteristics:

  1. It leads directly to the desired results.
  2. It breaks a self-defeating cycle.
  3. It is likely to be the toughest and most obnoxious part of the problem and so solving this solves a bundle of other behaviours as well.

He also recommends 2 critical steps to identify vital behaviours. They are look for crucial moments where cycles are repeated or broken and look for positive deviants - people who are succeeding against the odds.

In my previous piece I wrote about the result of some basic research I had done on the causes of violence. What I discovered is that no one really knows what causes violence. There are many things that correlate with violence, for example experiencing violence and abuse, poverty and a perception of abandonment, however identifying one or several causes is elusive. I speculated (with some support from literature) that the explanation for this is that the critical factor is not what has happened to a person but how the person perceives what has happened and how they react to it. In particular a persons ability to express and "complete" unresolved emotions is critical. If you cannot resolve the emotional state then you tend to suppress the negative energy. If you do this enough it is likely to erupt! With this as a framework the correlations to violence be gets violence, poverty etc are reasonably explainable. The more intense the event the harder it is to resolve. Correlated yes but not causal as there is a way to change the outcome. Through completion of the associated emotional reaction.

So if we do not know the causes of violence how can we identify critical behaviours? While I am not certain the following seem like a good place to start:

  1. Make domestic violence unacceptable
  2. Develop active parenting skills
  3. Build emotional resilience, and self esteem
Make Domestic Violence Unacceptable

Within New Zealand we too often see something going on that doesn't seem right but rather than act we turn away because "it is none of our business!!". This happens all the time. Maybe it is bullying, maybe it's a fight of some kind, maybe it is verbal abuse maybe it is the constant fighting, crashing and beating next door!!! While we do not support the behaviour by doing nothing and "turning a blind eye" we create an environment where we make it acceptable and allow it to continue. I am not advocating that you put yourself into harms way however the message needs to be loud and clear - violence is not acceptable, it cannot be allowed to continue and we need to take action to demonstrate this every time we encounter it so everyone gets the message!

Develop Active Parenting Skills

Various studies have found that many delinquent teenagers are not consistently supervised. More importantly studies have found that for children growing up in very disadvantaged and violent neighbourhoods, who look like they have everything going against them, the one factor that seems to protect that child from growing up to be violent is having a parent--overwhelmingly, a mother--who supervises her child very strictly and who nips misbehaviour in the bud, rather than waiting for the principal to call or the police officer to knock on the door (H. Wilson, "Parenting in Poverty,"). It appears then that active parenting can help to break the cycle.

Build Emotional Resilience

The literature suggests that violence is usually a result of suppressed emotions bubbling to the surface and lashing out. Unfortunately suppressing emotions is something kiwi's, particularly kiwi men, specialise in. We are taught to suppress our emotions, "get yourself together and be a man." For abusers as long as these emotions remain unresolved the violence is likely to reoccur. For the abused if they are not able to complete and resolve the emotions attached to being abused or witnessing abuse then there is a heightened chance of repeating the cycle!! We can break this cycle by teaching people how to positively (or harmlessly) express their emotions.

Motivational Strategies.

So what motivational strategies can we use to make change inevitable. As with the vital behaviours I am not certain but here are some suggestions:
  1. Drive a publicity campaign that talks about violence, and it's unacceptability and what alternatives there are. It addresses what can be done if you are the abuser, the abused or a witness of the abuse. An example of this type of campaign that has already begun in New Zealand and is getting results is "It's not OK!". We need to roll this out to all communities and repeat as often as needed,
  2. There are a number of examples overseas of media programming that has set up a storyline and characters who are the perpetrators and victims of violence. These characters are "normal people". During the course of the story the community of friends intervene to stop the violence. In one of these documented in "Influencer" the neighbours gathered outside the home of the abuser as he was beating his wife and banged pots and pans together. This let them know in a safe way that they knew what was going on and that it was unacceptable. After this episode was aired communities across the country spontaneously began the same technique!
  3. Teach/show people how to deal with negative emotions and negative situations in a positive way. There are many ways this could be done. Some examples:
    • anger management courses
    • counselling for offenders and victims
    • skills development through education. Examples might include Stephen Covey's 7 Habits, Crucial conversations (by the authors of Influencer), and courses/events such as stepUP the Landmark Forum or school programmes such as though documented by the University of Colorado's Blueprints for violence prevention
    • self help and peer support "institutions". By far my favourite model is that used by Delancey Street. Imagine the power of teens supporting each other to build new skills, break the cycle of violence and build genuine and powerful leadership skills. (watch this space. I think we should do this one!!)
  4. Improve parenting skills especially active parenting (ability, personal/social). There are a number of great organisations out there who are working on parenting issues. These include the Grant's Parents Inc, DIY Father, and the more established Plunket and many others.
So even though this is probably incomplete it provides a lot of ways to start. If your reading this and are wondering what can I do. Pick one. Any one. It all helps.

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