A Theory of Trouble

Trouble is what brings restorative justice workers into the lives of the people we serve. So it seems important that we have a clear understanding of the nature of trouble. Last weekend I picked up an excellent book, The World Behind the World, by Michael Meade, that has a very appealing theory of trouble:

“People try to teach the young to avoid errors, yet the best opportunities for learning occur after mistakes have been made. Teaching begins where trouble raises important issues of life, so does learning. The desire to learn awakens where people lack knowledge and make mistakes.”

Not that I want to portray our posture as similar to that of vultures, but in a sense we in the restorative justice field wait for trouble to occur, because trouble is the doorway through which we enter into our work. But what Meade is saying–and this very important–is that trouble is a universal doorway through which we all enter our inner work. This inner work is the deeper curriculum of life, arguably more important than the explicate curriculum of literacy, math, and science about which we hear so much. More from Meade:

“People ‘find themselves’ when in some kind of trouble. What troubles us always seems bigger than we are, it grabs hold of us and we find ourselves being pulled deeper and deeper into it. That’s the point of trouble: to get us into deeper waters thatn we might choose on our own.”

Perhaps we are like lifeguards who are trained and willing to go into those “deeper waters” where others are floundering. But if we are to be true to a fundamental vision of “restorative” we do not simply rescue others. Instead, we swim with them in a way that helps them discover their own capacity. We believe that the capacity is there, and we believe it deeply enough that we do not supress it by doing too much. This is a way of understanding empathy. Ours is not a prescriptive practice, but is rather a cooperative process, more akin to community organizing than to social work. More on that later.

Meanwhile, go back to the restorative resources website and check our bookstore. Meade’s book is listed there. If you have a general interest in mythology you’ll love it. I may make a couple more posts here about thoughtstorms it stirs up as I go through the rest of it.


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