Chapter 6 – Transforming hate

In youth settings where hate happens we can get stuck with the hateful behaviours and having to manage and challenge the behaviour when it happens, thinking that it needs fixing or solutions need to be found and we need to reach a compromise.

Committing to transformative practice to tackle hate is to acknowledge that justice doesn’t look the same for everybody, that repair is not always possible, that reacting to the behaviour only addresses the symptoms and not the root cause. The root causes are the numerous needs that the young people we work with have and which are often not met.

The key to transformation formula

The strategies you put in place to respond to the unmet needs of young people can be very different from those you would have put in place to respond to their behaviour.

Conditions in which transformation can happen

Transformation takes time and commitment:

  • If you work with a group of young people on a regular basis you have an opportunity to explore their needs. You can, in collaboration with the young people, explore ways they can start addressing the behaviours resulting directly from their un-met needs.

Sometimes the un-met needs are directly connected to discrimination or systematic and institutionalised discrimination. Strategies such as learning to be in solidarity, learning about rights, campaigning, and using critical thinking methodologies can be the way you encourage the young people to have compassion for themselves and their own un-met needs.

  • If you engage with young people in an irregular manner or only in groups i.e. with young people you will not get a chance to build a personal relationship with, it does not allow you to spend the necessary time with the young people to address their needs and create change but you can still plant the seeds for transformation through using the transformative practice model and focusing on your own practice:
  • You can frame whatever material, activity or workshop you do with the young people in an empathic and compassionate manner, putting it in a context of transformative justice and critical thinking.
  • Invest in your personal practice to make it easier to respond empathically and with compassion if hateful behaviour or language is displayed in any space where you find yourself i.e. aim to ensure that they aren’t disconnected by your response.
  • If you are an external facilitator or trainer you can ensure the space you are going into meets your requirements for supportive, respectful and inclusive space.
  • You can request that you are not on your own with a group and that whoever you will be working with gets a chance to hear what your approach is and how you tackle hate in youth spaces so that they support you.
  • By being aware of your own needs and acknowledging them you will approach your engagement with young people with more calm, confidence and commitment.
  • Transformation is about planting a seed – especially if you don’t have time with the young people to bring them on a full journey. You can focus on creating the fertile conditions in which the seeds of Transformation can grow – i.e. through compassionate communication in the time you are with them.





To approach any situation with empathy and compassion:

Step 1: Check in with yourself. Be aware of your perceptions, assumptions, beliefs and expectations and the impact they could have on your response to the situation. If there is anything that you need to park in order to be as present, neutral and fair as possible: do it.

STEP 2: Check that the language you are using (with a group or an individual) is connecting and be aware of others using disconnecting language around you. When you note that you have been disconnected you can re-connect.

STEP 3: Check that when the person/group are addressing you, you are listening in an empathic way. Be aware of your responses or how you engage with what is being said…the time for an intervention can be later, for the moment they just need to be heard; it will give you time to assess how they are feeling and what needs are not being met.

STEP 4: Check that what you are addressing is what you have observed only and not your interpretation of the events or your judgement of what happened.


The key to Transformative Practice is to work on addressing the triggers of hateful behaviour using a compassionate and empathic manner. It is important to remember that:

  • We think and behave in a certain way as a response to how we feel, and our feelings are the direct result of our needs being either met or unmet. When unmet needs are present it can result in hateful behaviours. As long as we do not address the core need that is not being met more incidents of hateful speech and behaviour can occur.

The key to Transformative Practice is working with young people on understanding their own feelings and needs and how this impacts on their behaviour. You might be addressing a particular incident that occurred, in which case you might start with:

Together you name the behaviour asking:

  • What happened?
    • Stick to observations only.
    • Hear their story with compassion and empathy i.e. avoid disconnecting.

Or you might be working with a young person on building their own compassionate practice and becoming aware of their own triggers. In this case you will build competences around talking about feelings.


If we aren’t attuned to and self-aware of our feelings, and many of us are not, it can be easy to misunderstand the nature of feelings:

  1. Thoughts: Often we mix our thoughts with our feelings; if you can replace the verb “I feel” by “I think” it means it was a thought and not a feeling.
  2. How we think others are behaving towards us: “I feel misunderstood by her” the feeling of being misunderstood is our feeling and not the behaviour of the other person.
  3. Evaluation of ourselves: “I feel useless” is actually an evaluation. The feelings resulting from that evaluation could be disappointment, for example.
  4. The concept that feelings can be ‘caused’ by others: e.g. when someone says “I feel you never pay attention to me” “I feel he is ignoring me” these are not feelings. A feeling would be “I feel sad because he is ignoring me”. Others can be the trigger or stimulus for how we might feel but they are not the ones making us feel as we do, we have to accept responsibility for our own feelings.
  5. Needs: “I feel loved”. Love is a need not a feeling.


PLAY: Engagement, fun, freshness, spontaneity, stimulation, rhythm, variety, comfort, ease, relaxation.
CLARITY: knowledge, awareness, to understand, reassurance, simplicity, order, accuracy, competence, efficiency, skill.
EQUITY: equality, fairness, sharing, cooperation, collaboration, honesty, openness, keep to agreements, reliability, consistency, justice, tolerance, balance, harmony, unity.
MEANING: purpose, contribution, awareness, beauty, mystery, wholeness, adventure, challenge, creativity, growth, learning, achievement, completion.
AUTONOMY: independence, freedom, choice, control, power, authenticity, integrity.
EMPATHY: understanding, sympathy, acceptance, acknowledgement, recognition, to be valued, consideration, respect, trust, celebration, mourning.
LOVE: care, nurture, affection, closeness, intimacy, touch, sexual expression.
PROTECTION: containment, safety, security, peace.
SUBSISTENCE: food, water, light, air, space, warmth, movement, rest, health, hygiene.
COMMUNITY: belonging, connection, friendship, contact, inclusion, participation, solidarity, loyalty, help, support.

We all have universal needs but we each adopt, or choose from, a range of strategies to meet those needs. It is often the strategy that we choose to meet our needs that creates conflict between peoples with each believing their ‘strategy’ is the right or best way. In situations of stress external forces can make us think that our ‘strategies’ are under threat. For example, we meet our need for security with ensuring that we have housing or accommodation.

However, our stress rises when newspapers, politicians etc. tell us that there is a housing shortage, because we fear for our need of security. But tensions arise when newspapers fail to say that the shortage is due to the failure to build new houses but instead blame immigrants for increased demand. These messages are repeated through different sources and people cling to them as it’s easier to blame immigrants than the deeper systemic issues.

We can see this in the following iceberg diagram:

  1. Our needs are at the bottom of the iceberg – usually unseen and not articulated as needs: belonging, security, stability, authenticity, hope and clarity.
  2. Above the water level and visible we see the strategies we use to meet various needs: housing, employment, attachment to institutions such as state health services and education systems, faith (religions) and belief systems, political alignment, migration (which can often be a way to meet a need for security), a strong sense of community.
  3. Externally we all receive messages which suggest that the things which we value to meet our needs are under threat and these can come in the form of newspaper or Facebook feeds such as ‘wages fall because of surge of immigrants’; ‘we’re not allowed to say Christmas anymore’; ‘I’m just saying what everyone is thinking’ (which really connects to authenticity and clarity as right wing views are often expressed as authentic and non-hypocritical.

Transformation is a process that brings the young person on a journey where they connect with themselves and see what they are doing, and why. In all cases, hateful speech and behaviour can be seen as a young person acting out of unmet needs that result in a range of feelings that pre-empt the hate speech and/or hateful behaviour.

This comes from our understanding that behind every feeling is a need. In this way, it allows us to break systematic patterns of responding, away from fixed ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Working with young people in transformation

Using a Tree of Needs exercise to explore behaviours, feelings and unmet needs

This exercise is a method devised to focus on transformation with young people you work with. This exercise will help you:

  • Learn how to introduce the topic to young people.
  • Focus on naming the problem that exists, and how to support the young person to know ‘what is going on here’.
  • Work with young people on recognising their feelings and needs.
  • Draw a tree showing roots, trunk and branches. Draw a line down the centre of the tree, through the branches, trunk and roots. These will represent the two sides of a story.
  • Choose a relevant ‘story’ of an incident of hate that has happened in the youth setting or in the community. Make sure it has relevance for the young people you are working with.
  • Use a number of questions with the young people to explore what is happening in the ‘story’. One side of the tree will represent the side of the person who experienced the hate speech and/or behaviour. The other side represents the person who was being hateful.
    • First ask what happened?
    • Name all the facts you have about what happened and what behaviour emerged?
    • Write the behaviours/actions amongst the branches.

When and if the young person/people are ready ask them:

  • Looking at the branches of the tree and seeing the behaviours explore:
    • What feelings led to those behaviours?
    • Write them down on the trunk of the tree.
  • Looking at the feelings explore what the needs of each of the two sides might be that could have led to those feelings?
    • Write down what the needs are on both sides.
    • Note whether the needs are similar on both sides or not.

This exercise allows the young person to name what happened, tap into and articulate their feelings and needs. In their journey of understanding what their needs are, and how their needs being unmet resulted in their behaviour, they can begin to reflect on the impact of their actions on others and how they might repair the harm. This process leads you into a space in which Restorative Practice can be used, usually in follow up sessions.


Don’t move on to discussing the related feelings or needs until the young person is able to understand these concepts for themselves.


Restorative Practice in youth work is used to repair harm. It is an approach that aims to get the person to understand the effect they have had on others and how it has impacted on themselves; it focuses on how they can learn from it and repair harm done. Therefore, it can always be used by a young person to repair harm they are causing to themselves. It may also involve bringing two groups or people who are in conflict together to acknowledge what has occurred and resolve an issue. However, meeting is not always necessary, possible or appropriate. There are other ways in which harm can be repaired. (For example, a letter can be written which may or may not be sent). Harm repair is predominantly about the young person taking ownership for their own feelings, needs and behaviour. This is a process and can take time. It is important not to bring the young person together with the person who has received hate until they are ready to repair the harm as this can further hurt them if the space becomes unsafe.

Restorative Practice involves exploring six questions with the person who has caused the harm several of which have been answered while doing the Tree of Needs exercise.

  1. What happened?
  2. What were you feeling at the time?
  3. Who has been affected?
  4. In what way have they been affected?
  5. What have you thought about since?
  6. What do you think you need to do to make things right?

If the young person is in the right space you can look at questions 5 and 6 to work toward reparation.

Note: If another youth worker is working with the person who has been harmed there is another set of questions for them:

  • What did you think when you realised what had happened?
  • What impact has this incident had on you and others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?


This is advice from youth leaders about Transforming Hate

“Acknowledge what is in the room”

“Self-reflection is key”

“Sometimes you need to recognise a clashing of needs”

“A shift in understanding happens”

“You need to have confidence in the process, in the tools you use”

“Making transformation happen is a challenge”

“When a person connects with you, you can see there is hope for change”


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