This project with the 6th graders at Hannah’s school is winding down. Today we viewed a scene from The Iron Giant when the Giant figures out how to actually stop his own automatic defensive reactions and make an active choice to de-escalate a conflict by caring enough about the other person, in this case the boy, Hogarth, who has befriended him and taught him “how to be kind” (as one of the students said today).
I’d want to write some about two weeks ago, when one of the girls shared a real story about someone holding a knife to her throat, and the substitute teacher kept pressing me for “an answer” about what a kid should do if they’re “in a locked room and someone is coming after you.” The truth is, some of these kids do face the threat of real physical violence in their daily lives, its not all “removed” and “hypothetical.” While the main thrust of the curriculum is general conflict resolution skills, what DO kids do in these situations?
Last week, I shared with them some of the things I’ve learned about adult survivors of violence. For instance, grown ups never tell a person who’s living in a dangerous situation (with someone who has hurt them and could hurt them again) “what to do.” The person in that situation knows best how to “read” the behavior of the one who might hurt them. What the kids can do, I suggested, is learn to read the signs of when someone they know (a family member or friend) is starting to move in the direction of violence and make decisions about how to protect themselves before it gets to the stage of being trapped.
It feels unsatisfactory, but I’m not sure what else one can offer them? Kids get hurt all the time by their parents and relatives, emotionally and physically, and “outsiders” can do very little to ameliorate it. It seems the most one can offer is a safe place to talk and strategize.
Anyway, this week we talked about the LTA model – Listen, Think, and Act. The shift that can resolve any conflict situation is finding a balance between desire and caring. I desire “what I want”, and if this is the most important thing to me, then I don’t care too much about the other person. If I care about the other person, I have to let the caring matter at least as much to me as whatever it is that I want. This is hard work – even for grown-ups!