7 minute read

Riding the Wave of Optimism – Being a circuit breaker for change

Genevieve Haszard

Genevieve Haszard

In my sixth form year my dad insisted I take physics. His view was that even if I was going to be a lawyer and did not believe, at the age of 16, physics was necessary for this career choice, knowledge is power and one day it would be useful and important.

Despite my considerable lack of aptitude there were a couple of important lessons I learnt in that year. Sticking at something you don’t find easy was one. The other, was about electrical currents.

For some reason the concepts of currents, energy, resistance, and circuit breakers really resonated with me. This was both fortunate and serendipitous as some ten years later I was sitting in a conference room listening to an electrical expert explain how a switchboard had caught on fire and caused a large office block in the Melbourne CBD to be evacuated at considerable expense to the various tenants and building owner. I was working for the law firm representing one of the insurers. The partner I was working with was struggling to understand the expert’s explanation, so I explained it as I understood it. It was all about circuit breakers. The partner had a eureka moment and the expert asked me if I had studied physics, impressed at how I had followed his explanation and then explained in simple terms what had occurred.

I subsequently left the world of civil litigation and now much of my work involves defending young adults as they navigate the criminal justice system. In many respects these young people sit on a circuit board, trapped in an ever-moving current they are unable to leave without a circuit breaker to redirect their energy into a new and positive direction and they are taught the skills to deal with resistance, both internal and external.

In Mount Maunganui there is a programme using surfing as that circuit breaker – Tai Watea - Surf Therapy Live for More programme. Riding the wave becomes a metaphor for the lives of those on the course. There will be times when you hit the wave beautifully and ride it out, and other times when you will get dumped, but the trick is learning to get back on the board ready for the next wave which could be “the one”. It requires an optimistic outlook, a positive energy and being in the right current.

The young men of Tai Watea are given an opportunity to find their true energy, connection, and in doing so find a new pathway or, as I see it, a new circuit. At the helm is Krista Dixon who personifies positive energy and unfailing optimism. She leads a team of compassionate, grounded youth workers, mentors, teachers and support personnel who are passionate and committed about what they do. As a result, the Tai Watea programme is achieving quite amazing outcomes for the young men who take part. The impressive statistics evidence dramatically reduced recidivism rates for the young men who complete the course, and numerous stories illustrate how life-changing this can be.

I recently had the privilege of observing and celebrating a young client graduating from Tai Watea. It was the result of a chance discussion. I saw someone who was at a crossroad in his life. There was something about him and I knew intuitively he simply needed pointing in the right direction with the right support. He needed a circuit breaker. During one of our meetings, I asked him if he would be interested having a look at the course and he said he would. I made the call there and then. Sean McGuinniety, one of the course leaders, came straight over to my office.

The first sign of commitment my client showed was his willingness to wait for Sean to arrive. He showed further commitment and tenacity managing some challenges during the course, but he got through and my young client graduated and was awarded the top leadership prize. He led the haka with passion, pride, energy, and a beautiful self-assurance. As a result of his work on the course he was discharged without conviction. No conviction meant one less point of resistance for this young man so he could continue this positive journey and be the leader he has clearly shown he can be. This week he started his first job with long term prospects which means he is working regular hours, with regular pay and with the very real prospect of one day owning his own business.

Tai Watea was my client’s circuit breaker. His energy is now directed positively, and he has momentum. There is less resistance. He is riding the waves of optimism coming his way with the on-going support of Tai Watea and his own developing self-belief. He is also better able to deal with the waves that might dump him. He now has the ability to get back up and be ready for the next wave and keep the forward momentum.

But I am a realist. Not all stories can be successful. I have had other clients who haven’t quite made it through overwhelming struggles with trauma and addiction. Fortunately, there are initiatives being developed in the criminal justice system which respond to the fact that many defendants have underlying trauma which has resulted in drug and alcohol addiction. These initiatives are based on a therapeutic sentencing ideology which is statistically more effective than a purely punitive response.

However, what is absolutely clear is that the best chance of reducing offending rates is to provide opportunities like Tai Watea early to those vulnerable to getting caught in the criminal justice system. As part of this early intervention, there are opportunities for many of us to proactively support those who may not have someone in their corner to direct them positively.

Tai Watea is one example of a number of amazing programmes run throughout the country that offer an opportunity to be the circuit breaker, to create new positive energy and stories. There are many of us – teachers, sports coaches, lawyers, extended whanau – who have the opportunity to help re-direct those that may be on the wrong circuit through no fault of their own. In my client’s case, it was taking the time to ask him what his aspirations were and a fortuitous discussion about a painting in my office that took his interest which let me know he was wanting to make a change. From there it was acting on the moment. It was just a phone call, but the outcome has been quite profound. How many of us have those opportunities every day? A positive word? A moment to really engage? A phone call to see if a connection can be made? It costs nothing but a little bit of time.

I will keep paying forward the opportunities I had because I had parents who challenged me and were able to hold a line when needed – to keep me heading on the right circuit even when I was probably giving them some pretty negative energy in the process.

So, if you can, be the circuit breaker and support organisations like Tai Watea that are doing the mahi and changing lives for the better of all of us.

* Genevieve Haszard Is a barrister based in Tauranga and is the NZBA representative on council for the Bay of Plenty. She has over 20 years experience in the legal profession and practices in both the criminal and civil jurisdictions