A note on emotional matters
Reflections on the film Eye to Eye
by Nina Wroldsen
In the documentary ‘Eye to Eye’ we meet family members of victims and the perpetrators in Finland, who participate in facilitated restorative justice meetings. It is powerful to witness the emotional and mental strain the participants go through as we listen to their stories. The documentary ‘Eye to Eye’ made by filmmaker John Webster was shown at the European Forum for Restorative Justice’s virtual symposium in June 2021.
Scenes in the film show staff members work with inmates through dialogue. Part of the work is to talk about how they feel and to find words to describe their feelings. Participation is voluntary. Some of the inmates have difficulties expressing their feelings. One inmate admits that ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ are difficult words for him to say, ‘they (the words) even sort of annoy me’. The facilitator admits that the use of these words could be offensive to the victim’s family too. When a second inmate says that ‘this restorative business may work in Sweden, but not in Finland’ – the group bursts into laughter. The facilitator then asks if it is only the Swedes that can speak about their issues …? But receives no answer. There may be several reasons for this comment not being answered. Was it a reference to Finland once being a dominion under Sweden, and that talk about emotions is more of a Swedish cultural trait more so than in Finnish culture? Or is restorative justice perceived to be coming from Sweden? Could it simply be that expressing one’s feelings is considered a private matter?
The loss of a child must be the hardest any parent can experience. In the quiet, yet powerful documentary ‘Eye to eye’ we meet families who have lost their child in a tragic way, death by violence. In most of these cases the perpetrator is male and a close friend, boyfriend, or a family member. In ‘Eye to eye’ the tragedies unfold as family members and perpetrators share their stories. And we get an understanding of how such tragedies affect families, friends, and whole communities. How can one endure the excruciating pain of loss and anger that eats you from within? How can you heal such a wound?
One way of healing is through facilitated meetings between the victim’s family and the perpetrator. These meetings are initiated by social workers who acts as facilitators using restorative justice (RJ) principles and methods. Through dialogue between the parties RJ methodology aims to restore broken relationships. To face the family members, and for family members to face the perpetrator is a tough process. At the same time, it is a healing process that help participants move forward. Emotions are learnt behaviour. Through social constructions we learn how to feel, and to develop our emotional repertoire (Nussbaum, in Andersen, 2019). The foundation for understanding others is to understand other peoples’ emotions (Andersen, 2019). ‘If you do not have the basic understanding of how other people feel you cannot be a good partner, parent or citizen’ (ibic., p. 14, own translation). According to Andersen it may be a threat to society if the majority of the population lack the ability to understand other peoples’ feelings. A result of this may be that tolerance withers. Emotional repertoire is not learnt through arguments and discussion but through stories. Stories from different cultures creates emotional narratives, and these construct emotional geographies. These emotional geographies change over time, but slowly. It takes practice to see the world through other people’s eyes and perspectives (Andersen, 2019). Education provide society with skilled professionals and workers, but also with capable good citizens.
Behind every behaviour issue there is a feeling and under the feeling there is an emotional need. Psychologists speak of four human emotional needs; it is the feeling of being seen, the need to express feelings, to have those feelings acknowledged and that the expression is met through such things as receiving comfort and feeling safe. Behind every behaviour issue there is an emotional need. Some say that men cannot express feelings, but I wonder if those have ever been to a football match with the almost tangible emotional intensity?
Research shows that children whose parents respect and guide their emotional need do better in school, are healthier and more sociably adaptive. (Gottman, 2018). Validating another human being is acknowledging that person’s feelings, to make that person feel like they, and their feelings, are accepted. Knowing this, is it not imperative that feelings and emotional needs are addressed by teachers in schools? A restorative approach in schools would provide students with a safe and inclusive arena where they can share how they feel. A restorative approach that values all stakeholders’ views, may perhaps be a way forward?
Strong and powerful is how I describe the documentary ‘Eye to eye’, a film that made a deep impact on me and left me with the question wether or not educators can help make a difference?
Nina Wroldsen has many year’s experience using restorative circles as a school teacher and school leader. She has lectured internationally on the field of restorative processes and is the co-author of several text books for secondary schools and the use of restorative practices in education. Nina serves on the election committee and is a Board member of Safe Learning Norway.
She is a member of the Working Group for Restorative Schools for the European Forum for Restorative Justice and she is the Principal of an IB Public School in Oslo.
Andersen, P.T. (2019). Forstå fortellinger: Innføring i litterær analyse. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.
Gottman, J., Thuen, F. (2018). Hva er det jeg føler? Oslo: Panta Forlag.
Gottman. J. (2004). What am I feeling? Seattle: USA
Knowles, S., Gallagher, B, & Bromley, H. (2021). My Intense Emotions Handbook: Manage Your Emotions and Connect Better with Others. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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