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Another kind of AI: Arrogant Ignorance

None of us has a monopoly on arrogance or ignorance – these are 2 characteristics of the human condition that are shared equally amongst all humans, in my opinion. We, whoever we are, in whatever area of the dv sector we work, need to be aware of our own propensity for misplaced arrogance and risky ignorance (another kind of A.I.) and how we can overcome them. Some definitions first:

  • Arrogance (thinking we know more than we actually do – “I know it all already” or “You can’t teach me anything”) and,

  • Ignorance (not knowing what we should and not even being aware of our not knowing, and not being open to learn more)

On their own they are dangerous enough. Together, they are a potentially deadly cocktail. Being arrogantly ignorant (AI) is a dangerous way to be in domestic violence intervention and response work. Both emerge out of an unwillingness to learn and to grow in our work. I believe we learn and grow primarily by seeking out and deeply listening to the experiences of victim/survivors and seeking out and listening to the practice wisdom of experienced practitioners, women’s advocates, counsellors, and activists. This must be victim-focused, victim-centred work, even in our work with men, victim-survivors must be our primary and urgent priority.

Arrogance and ignorance must be guarded against and overcome if we are going to keep women and children safe and if we are going to hold perpetrators to account and create mechanisms of real change in our society. In our work, in our organisations and services we need to be able to safely say, without negative repercussions, to our managers, supervisors, colleagues, and yes, at times, even our clients:

1. “I don’t know”

2. “I got it wrong”

3. “I am afraid for you , for me, for others”

4. “I am out of my depth”

5. “I need more information”

6. “I need more skills”

7. “I cannot do this alone”

8. “I need help and support”

9. “I cannot do this today – someone else is better placed”

If we do not have work cultures that openly encourage and accept honesty, critical self-awareness, and calls for help, then we are likely to have cultures that discourage those responses. These will be work cultures that are built on shaky foundations, that encourage pretence and deception and faking good! Pretence, deception, and faking good – sound like anyone you know? This is not building a culture of safety, or a workplace focused on safety in practice. This is where compounding mistakes can occur. This is where a calamity of errors may be prevalent (see my previous post on “Calamity of Errors”).

Once we start pointing fingers at others, whoever “they” are, we tend not to critically reflect on the logs in our own eyes. I am the first to admit that over the years I have been guilty of arrogance and ignorance, thinking I know more than I really do, and not knowing what I should know in this work. Reductionistic, oversimplifying, single variable solutions rarely lead to positive outcomes for complex ‘wicked’ problems. Solutions without reference to the considerations and needs and hopes of victim/survivors are no solutions at all.

In this work, wherever we work, whether we are magistrates, managers, police or parole officers, practitioners, counsellors or consultants, facilitators, advocates and activists, to be effective, competent, and accountable, we all need:

  • A victim safety framework

  • A perpetrator accountability focus

  • Respectful collaborative partnerships with other domestic violence services

  • Experienced leadership

  • Mature mentoring

  • Strong consistent supervision

  • Collegial collaborative teams

  • Critical reflective thinking in our collegial teams

  • Critical awareness of unintended consequences

  • Ongoing risk-assessment and management of perpetrators

  • Willingness to hear and heed feedback about our interventions and responses (especially from victim/survivors).

  • Willingness to be challenged, without feeling threatened, or taking it personally.

  • Quality evidence-informed training, education, and resources

  • Nurturance and compassion in this traumatic work

  • Humility to be aware that we will not, on our own, have all the answers, and an openness to face our own biases, blind spots, and barriers

Does your service or organisation tick these boxes? This might be a useful checklist. These should go a long way to overcoming arrogant ignorance, and hopefully lead to safer more life-enhancing outcomes for victim/survivors, and more accountable, effective, and life- and behaviour-changing interventions for perpetrators. I also believe they will lead to more meaningful, compassionate, and safer workplaces with more loyal and committed workers. Hopefully, safer communities and a safer society for all will emerge.

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