Many of you will be familiar with the African Proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. The proverb suggests that we all have a responsibility to look out for each other, especially our children, and I don’t simply mean your own children.
Speaking as a former police officer who spent 30 years policing communities in Scotland, this ancient proverb is as true today as it was in the past. Resilient and connected communities can respond to incidents better than those that aren’t. Connected communities are better able to understand the trauma that exists in their communities and know when to reach out to support those who for that moment need a bit extra support. In short prevention starts in a community, any community.
For me the past week has been spent in the Shetland Islands. This magical and mysterious part of Scotland is a firm favourite of mine. Not because of the TV series, which I have to confess I have never watched. This has more to do with their emphasis on community.
Now I appreciate that there remain issues on Shetland similar to those we see on the Scottish Mainland. In some cases, these issues may be amplified, especially when you draw in the potential for people to be more isolated from family and neighbours. Issues of Domestic Abuse remain a challenge in these communities.
This week was about fitting my work into a vision that is currently being discussed across the Island community. A vision that involves Shetlands moving to becoming a Restorative Island.
The vision for the island is one that seeks to engage, not only individuals involved in a situation, harm or conflict, but the community as a whole, enabling everyone to explore ways of moving forward. The vision is for the Shetland’s to be able to resolve conflict in a restorative rather than a punitive way.
For me this will involve many different strands all flowing in the same direction under shared values of respect, fairness, honesty, inclusivity and being non-judgemental. I also feel that empathy and compassion need to run through this approach. This would involve communities having a better understanding of the issues that reman a challenge for those working and living on Shetland.
As was said by the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, Empathy is the glue that binds our communities together. Finding this glue, the sticky stuff, is essential for Shetland as they move this vision into a reality.
So how can Shetland achieve this? For me they already have much in place. It’s about joining up these organisations and the leaders who already exist across the community.
My work this week has provided Shetland with a team of ‘folks’ who now have some tools to start community conversations around a variety of ongoing social issues. It’s within these conversations that empathy will be created and shared. It’s within these conversations that victims of abuse, ongoing and in the past, will feel empowered and not responsible for their situation. It’s within these conversations that individuals will see others who share similar values to their own. It’s within these conversations that a common purpose will be both confirmed and realised. A sense of shared purpose for me is a great persuader.
It’s clear there will be challenges for this vision. Some will simply say “What’s the point?”. My advice to Shetland is focus on your why. Why are you doing this work? Why should people come along with you?
Another great persuader is ‘reciprocity’, the notion if you do something you will get something in return. The benefits of this vision are wide. A restorative community is where the population:
- enjoy a safe, calm environment
- value relationships based on equal respect, concern, care and dignity
- enjoy positive cultural identity
- understand both the negative impact and positive impact of our behaviour
- take responsibility for our actions and repair harm we may have caused others
- have our voices heard and are tolerant of differing views.
Furthermore, a restorative community can be measured by:
- reduced child abuse, domestic violence and other criminal activities
- reduced absenteeism / stand downs and increased academic achievement in schools
- reduced absenteeism / bullying and sabotage in workplaces and increased productivity
- increased satisfaction when interacting with government and non-government agencies
- increased feeling of safety in homes and walking the streets
- increased sense of community belonging
Surely these outcomes would benefit us all? Communicating these outcomes will help Shetland overcome the challenges.
I’m leaving Shetland with new friends but also a renewed sense that community provides the answers to many of the challenges that society currently faces.
As I write this, I’m aware our politicians are still in deadlock around Brexit with no real end in sight. There’s another community who would benefit from a similar vision to that of Shetland.
Shetland Enjoy the journey.