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Episode 26:
Behaviour is Communication


Marina Robb

Hosted by: Marina Robb

In this episode, Marina discusses: 

In episode 26, I'm sharing the importance of knowing that our behaviour does not really reflect what is going on internally and that most of the time we are not aware of how our unmet needs are fuelling the behaviour that we need support for, not punishment.

  • Behaviour is an outward expressions of feelings, thoughts, needs and intentions (see Alfie Kohn’s work).
  • How do we want our children to turn out?
  • What’s the cost of a punitive and controlling approach?
  • What does punishment really teach us?
  • Healthy relationships are fundamental to well-being.

Music by Geoff Robb: www.geoffrobb.com 

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(transcribed by AI so there maybe some small errors!)

Hello, and welcome to The Wild Minds Podcast for people interested in health, nature-based therapy and learning. We explore cutting edge approaches that help us improve our relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. My name is Marina Robb, I'm an author, entrepreneur, for a school outdoor learning and nature-based trainer and consultant, and pioneer in developing green programs for the health service in the UK.

You're listening to Episode 26 behavior is communication. In this episode, I'll be sharing the importance of knowing that our behaviors do not really reflect what's going on internally. And that most of the time, we're not aware of how our unmet needs are fueling behaviors that we need support with not punishment. As we get into this new season, I've been thinking a lot about punishment, and rewards and how that plays out in our lives, whether that's within a school system, whether that's subtly within the relationships we might have, and generally even our own culture. And, and I've been noticing that it's, it's really prevalent, more than I realized that as a practitioner, and somebody that's worked with young people for 30 years, I've obviously delved into some of the structures and norms of, of how we are with children.

And one of the things that I've been aware of is the idea of praising you know, and how we praise children and what that actually might be doing, to the young people, either the individual or the whole group, when we do that, and I'm going to look at look at that a little bit today. But I'm also really interested in following last week's podcast with John, to look at some of the threads that are prevalent in, in our society and culture. And, of course, we are within what some people are calling this Polly crisis.

And one of those threads is the crisis of school attendance, and anxiety, and mental health, and obviously, environmental crisis. And I think they're all linked, I think all of these things are linked in the way that we are within structures that we don't necessarily realize that we are within and I am someone that has hope. So I always am aware that as I start to talk about crisis, as it starts to feel kind of impossible to solve and, and the good news is that we don't have to solve it all on our own, that these are these are little changes and often as we change what's going on within ourselves, then the way we see the world changes, and we see the opportunities and the possibilities.

And there is hope within that. So there are a lot of young people out there within schools that are struggling, and we could say that their behaviors are showing a high level of distress. And we used to call it challenging behaviors. And we do call it challenging behaviors, because they definitely challenge us. But I also want us out there to recognize that it isn't just the behaviors of young people, it's also our own behaviors, you know, the times that we know that our behavior is reacting to something and we're not our best selves, because we are all in that we don't always behave well. And obviously the same is happening for these young people. And I can hear the value judgments in behave well, good, behaving in an obedient in a normal way, a way that's acceptable within the groups that were within or within the structures that were within whether that's a school or in the workplace.

So behaviors. In my field of work, we understand behaviors to be seen as a form of communication. So, behaviors are, in effect, outward expressions, what we're seeing Hang, when we are either observing behaviors or in a relationship where certain behaviors are happening, they are expressions of feelings, thoughts, needs and our intentions. The what we're actually seeing does not tell us what is going on within that person. And particularly when things feel more aggressive, or rude, or violent or so called angry, what's underneath what's motivating that behavior is probably not what we are seeing on the surface. And that's really important.

So sometimes I'm aware of what's going on inside me and why I'm behaving in the way I'm behaving. And sometimes I'm not aware, and you know, it's taken years to be in a position to kind of excavate if you like, and go within myself to figure out, okay, that's what's going on. That's what I need. Because we are absolutely not brought up to be aware of our needs. And even if we knew what our needs were, we wouldn't necessarily value ourselves enough to think we can even express them, or let alone believe for a moment that they may be met by that other person. So many of us are what we could say, dissociated from our feelings, because and dissociated from our needs, because we just would have tried and tried and tried as a younger person, and would have learned pretty much early on that those behaviors which are underpinned by those needs, are just not going to get met.

So what are we doing about that in our society? What are we actually doing? Well, we really like to punish people, when they step out of line, you know, from our prisons, to our schools, to our everyday relationships. And, you know, I sometimes think that punishing in relationships could be withdrawing your love, for example, so that, you know, emotional punishing is, you know, that's going to hurt somebody, if you do that.

And then there's the obvious punishing, like, shaming in front of people, or as little ones, getting them to be locked in a room or sat on a step or all these things that we we've done, you know, we've done it, we've got angry, we've reacted, and we've punished, and we're we do it because, well, partly because we've got a strong set of emotions and feelings going on within us, and releases to kind of express that. But we're also doing it because it's learned behavior, we've learned that actually being in control and controlling others appears to work. Does it work? I mean, that's really one of the most important questions.

And although I can't cite the research on the podcast, there's enormous research that shows that punishing and rewarding and praise that links through to award doesn't really work. What it does is it works on a superficial level. And yes, there's compliance. for lots of reasons. A lot of that will be fear based. But it doesn't work if we actually stop and think what do we actually want our children to feel or to be? Or have a sense of as they're growing up? Right? What are we what are we trying to support in our young people? And how do we want our young people to turn out and this is not obviously just our young people, this is us, too.

How do we want to turn out? What kind of people do we want to be? And what we can generally see that most people when they're asked, How do you want your children to turn out, they actually want people to be happy people talk about being happy, balanced. I think that's really interesting, what we might attribute in terms of balance. People say they want their children to be self reliant, thoughtful, responsible, independent. And so on, then you might have other words going on as to what you want with your children, and then we have to kind of ask ourselves the question Chine? Well, if we want those things for ourselves or for our children, what are we doing?

That actually makes this more likely? or less likely? So is it more likely that if we do tell children, whether they're toddlers, or whether they're within the school system, that if they don't do this, or if they behave in this particular way, they're going to get punished. Or indeed, if they do this, they're going to get reward the approval of the teacher, or a sense of the kind of approval that builds your so called self esteem, how long term? How sustainable is that? Because if we were relying on an external person, to decide whether we are intrinsically good enough, intrinsically have enough self worth, then we're always relying on the external world to decide whether we're good enough and to determine our levels of confidence and self esteem.

What's interesting to me as a practitioner, that also works a lot within health and safety and risk assessment by using, you know, tools outdoors, or fires or knives, and kind of using our hands. We use, like this idea of risk benefit analysis. And I have been also thinking how a lot of these models can be discovered or explored, if you like, through a kind of lens of risk benefit analysis, like, what is the cost to us when we are punished? You know, what is the benefit of that? And I'm gonna let you wonder about that. What does punishment really teach us? So normally, when we punish children, or we send them out of the classroom, or we shout at them, or we, you know, get angry that they haven't done their homework, or we, as I say, shame them, or we tell them that it's a stupid idea, or we respond really badly when they're expressing a feeling.

Usually, it tells the child that the way they're feeling is absolutely not acceptable. And, and as I said, we don't really know what's going on underneath why they might be expressing that feeling, we don't actually know one of the things we say, when we're meeting a group. For the first time, especially if a group has had a lot of difficulties, we bring to our mind that we absolutely don't know what that young person has had to deal with before they've just shown up, you know, whether they're dealing with potentially alcoholic parents or violence, or the fact they've had to wash their clothes in order to arrive, although they're really hungry, you know, all of these things will have an impact on the behavior we're seeing. And what we tend to do is then punish those young people, rather than understanding that they actually need that relationship.

So that will have an effect of also making us more and more angry, and not actually allowing us to think clearly and get our needs met. And of course, when we get angry, we also can speak to ourselves really badly, as well as we can be very self punishing. And we're much more likely to hurt others. If, if we've been given that experience. The other big thing that we need to think about is that we're modeling a particular use of power. And this is about power over and not about power with. And this is an area that I'm incredibly interested in as well as how we use our power, this authority that we have within us, do we use it to control people to create pain, physical or emotional? How are we using that power? It really the cost, the cost of that? So we're modeling ways of dominating people when we punish. And of course, then we step out and we started to see this within the structures that we're living within a way of approaching conflict is by going to war for example. Okay, so another thing If you're punished by someone, you actually feel that they don't care about you at all. So this idea of building a relationship between you is eroded. And many of us will know that it's very, very hard to trust people who will say that it's good for you, if I remove this from you, or if you do this, this is going to happen.

Because actually, first of all, as I said, right at the beginning, the behavior that I might be exhibiting or somebody might be exhibiting probably has nothing to do with the need, really, they might need to either be fed, or they might need just a space to feel safe, or an opportunity to go and create something on their own, rather than write the sentence and do it in a particularly the right way of, you know, using the pen in a particular way. And if they don't do it, then they're doing it wrong, for example, their needs might be completely different. So it kind of sets up this relationship that is very, very conditional, you will love me, you will treat me well.

If I do it your way, it also actually promote self interest. So you we learning, we're all learning in this kind of domination, rather than partnership way of working, we're learning that actually how to how to avoid punishment, and how to please someone. So it's quite manipulative, and it's in our self interest. Because actually, we don't want to feel or get the, you know, to receive that kind of anger, we don't want to have that. So we're going to actually learn to dodge, dodge it and not be present, you know, and that is actually quite a self interested thing. Rather than feeling actually I can, stand true and have the ability to actually say this is wrong and actually want to help others.

Now, I'm completely aware, this is not possible when you're young, because you are at the mercy of the adults in your care. But of course, all these patterns pay out later on as well. Another one, we can think about this, this leads into, you know, how we learn to be calculating how we learn not to get caught, we learn to lie to protect ourselves, and remembering going full circle back to how do we want to be in in this world? How do we want to turn out what kind of person do we want to be? It's really hard if we're, if we need to protect ourselves. And, you know, I There are so many ways of looking at this, you know, people will be saying, but you know, we things, people must have consequences. And the thing is, is that consequences are very, very close to actually being quite threatening, that if you do this is going to happen, we will make you suffer if you don't do what I say.

So they are kind of part of the same package. And a lot of the ways through this is through a much more healthy relationship with yourself and with others. And if we're always aware or responding to external kind of motivations from whether we're going to get a reward, or whether we're going to get praise, and that's going to help us feel better than we do lose a sense of ourselves. And that has a lot of repercussions for what we end up feeling we're capable of in our life, and an ability to really look after ourselves. And that obviously has implications for our own mental health. So the wonderful Brene Brown talks about having a strong back, a soft front and a wild heart. Absolutely love that because what we definitely need to do is to develop a very grounded confidence as she says and boundaries and boundaries are really being aware of what's okay for you and what's not okay for you.

And that actually people are doing the best that they can within the situation that they find themselves in because so much of this stuff is also unconscious, you know, not really being aware, as I said, of what we need, even though we know universal needs are to be loved, to be able to find safety, to be able to be witnessed and looked at as though you have value. You have dignity you Do you belong, you know, these are basic needs. But a strong back is also to have that confidence and to take those risks, you know, I like talking about risks, but to be able to take the risks and to know that you can come through this. And, you know, I know that out there, it is not safe for many people to take those risks, because they might be locked up or beaten up, the risks are really high, real risks. And even me, as a white middle class, white person can feel the fragility of certain behaviors and what that could happen, you know, you can get sanctioned for certain behaviors, and never be questioned as to what's going under what's going on underneath.

So there is vulnerability, they're so strong back, and this takes time. And those boundaries, what's okay for you and not okay for you to be present in a group is to be able to name those things to be human in that the soft front is really trying to develop this, this ability to stay vulnerable and curious. And I've talked about that in other podcasts, and I'm absolutely still, and will always continue to learn to learn about that. Because when, when we when I feel threatened when children feel threatened, when we feel scared, we defend ourselves, we fight, or we freeze or we run. So to be able to be vulnerable, you have to be sufficiently resourced in the other areas of being whole, which I've been discussing throughout these podcasts with other people as well. And this lovely wild heart, you know, just really being in the heart place. And being in a place that isn't domesticated isn't limited by all these fears, if you like and being in the paradox of who we are, whilst on the one hand, we might feel this strength and this power, and this ability to be present. But on the other hand, at the same time, we feel our vulnerability and holding these paradoxes. And we're gonna be talking about that as well more in the podcast, to come about these double binds that we find ourselves in.

And the fact is that there, this tension is always there, between parts of ourselves and an in a way different parts of ourselves need attending to all the time, talks a bit more about punishment than I have about rewards, but in a way, they're part of the same thing. They're the part of how we are coerced and conditioned into certain behaviors, when really we want to be working on this inner world, in our in our attending to what's going on inside of ourselves. And that will help us thrive.

And with that, I think I am going to end there. And I wish you well and see you next time. Join me next week for episode 27 When you'll meet Peter Owen Jones, an ecological thinker, an Anglican priest, and a presenter on award winning TV documentaries for the BBC, including extreme pilgrim around the world in 80, faiths, and how to live a simple life. Look forward to seeing you all next week.

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Wild Minds Podcast. If you enjoyed it and want to help support this podcast, please subscribe, share and leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. Your review will help others find the show.

To stay updated with The Wild Minds Podcast and get all the behind-the-scenes content. You can visit the www.theoutdoorteacher.com or follow me on Facebook at theoutdoorteacherUK and LinkedIn, Marina Robb.
The music was written and performed by Geoff Robb. See you next week. Same time, same place.