A blog by Claire Standen Coaching
Sometimes I feel like I’m a bull in a china shop. Crashing around, hurting people… smashing things…
It’s felt like that sometimes, especially on the path to change. But you know bulls aren’t really supposed to hang around in china shops, and as much as the owner might give me disapproving looks, or try to get stuff out of the way in time, it’s not really going to change the fact that I’m a bull, and a china shop might not be the best place for me.
Then here comes the personal development world on the horizon, singing out the powerful message that if you want to do things differently, you can! It’s just a matter of discipline, hard work and consistency. Repetition, affirmations, resolve. ‘I am a beautiful butterfly’. ‘I am a beautiful and charming, delicate butterfly’. Well… maybe, somewhere deep inside of me is something that identifies with being a beautiful butterfly. I’m open to that. After all, we are never only one thing (we are all way more complex and nuanced than that), but what if I stopped fighting the bullish part? What if I removed myself from the china shop, for a start? Acknowledging, of course, that there may be other breakable things along the way- that the skills I learnt there amongst the fragile racks of fine china may be useful at times in the future. But I don’t have to dwell there, where I’m not welcome, where my skills and abilities are not noticed, certainly not celebrated. Perhaps I could remain open enough to keep looking for the place that a bull is a welcome addition. Seeing myself, grazing peacefully in a wide open meadow, for example.
This leads me on to other humans, and why I cannot and will not believe the idea so commonly bandied about that ‘some people are just evil’, because I think that as a species we do ourselves a huge disservice by holding up this dichotomy of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Even as a victim of sexual assault, I believe that there would be more to gain from seeking understanding and focussing on healing than on the rhetoric that ‘bad people’ should be ‘locked up and the key thrown away’. It’s a VERY big topic, but what I know intuitively is that I don’t want punitive justice for the person who harmed me. I want to seek understanding, and to pursue healing, not punishment. This has been unexpectedly contentious. It seems that once you are the person harmed, the World wants to decide for you what will happen, what is just and what is ‘right’. It’s been a long time since I operated with such a model of the world as ‘right and wrong’ or even ‘true and false’, though, and that seems to be an important piece to have had in place before this happened to me. It’s almost as if I get a chance to road-test a principle I felt I had- that punishment is not the way to best deal with transgressions from our best selves.
When an idea, principle, belief or value comes from us as people, it infiltrates every part of our life. For example, as a ‘victim’ of crime, I feel no more convinced by punishment as a solution as I do as a parent of two children or as a former Veterinary Nurse. If I will not rub a dog’s nose in its own urine to ‘teach it a lesson’, nor shut my child in their room to ‘think about their behaviour’, why would I believe that similar actions are an appropriate, just and fair way to treat someone who committed a crime against me. Some might (and have) say ‘but in doing that, the criminal took away their right to be treated fairly- they didn’t treat you well, so you shouldn’t feel compassion for them’.
To which I would reply with the story of Thecla. Thecla makes my heart sing the loudest of all the courageous women in Megan Watterson’s Divine Feminine pack that I hold so dear. She is sent to trial and sentenced to death in a stadium, where she is supposed to be attacked by a lioness, who instead protects here. She eventually baptises herself, and the women in the crowd start to see that she has been misjudged, and will not let her be harmed. Further to this, I would love to draw attention to a story I heard about an African tribe (I can’t find the original source, but if nothing else it demonstrates a principle beautifully), in which a woman hears a song before conceiving a child, teaches it to their partner and then sings it throughout the child’s pregnancy and childhood. If, at any time in a person’s life, they break the societal rules of the community, they are bought back to the centre of the community in circle, and their song is sung to them, to bring them back to themselves. One of my mentors, Marlee Liss (the first person to take a sexual crime through restorative justice in the US) talks about the questions which occurred to her after she was raped, which was ‘what happens between when a baby is born and someone becomes a perpetrator of a crime’? For me, there is so much within that question that holds so much hope. If we really want a safer, kinder more just World, we need to look at questions like these, first and foremost. It seems to me that for too long, our attention has been diverted towards the punishment and retribution rather than healing and moving forwards. Especially since, in my own and many other cases, the justice we are told we should seek is out of reach. The statistics in the UK for bringing perpetrators of sexual crime are horrific. Truly unacceptable, to me anyway. But that’s not the same as saying I want everyone thrown in jail. It doesn’t work. The same way putting your toddler on a bottom step to stew in the horrible feelings of having done wrong, doesn’t work. We need to re-think everything, from the bottom up. From our education system’s ‘traffic-light’ behaviour management systems, to employer’s ways of disciplining their staff, to the police and everything in between. The way we do this is to dig in. To not turn away in distaste from the parts of society that trouble us or don’t work. To see the struggle for other people is not so different from the one we face. To understand that the same system that makes a victim a victim makes the perpetrator a perpetrator. To look for the ways in which we can effect change, within us and within the structure and systems in which we operate.
I believe the biggest thing we can commit to doing is to the work of personal change. To live from our values, principles and beliefs even when it is not the easiest thing to do. Even when it means we don’t get to be ‘right’, but instead need to seek understanding in those whose behaviours, thoughts and beliefs do not align with our own.