Saturday, January 21, 2012

In Search of Courage

Dear Teacher,

Was chatting recently with a woman who works for Group Home X. She said that she finds that people coming out of DSW programs are too idealistic and have no idea how things "really are."

She has worked in developmental services for many years and said that it's very hard to secure full-time employment; mostly it's cobbling full-time hours from a series of part-time jobs. I'm OK with that, but am feeling discouraged by her attitude.

I found her to be a bit condescending, actually, when I explained some of the concepts we're learning, especially about helping people live their best lives. She claims that the reality is that most of the people she supports have no capacity/the wherewithal to even know that their lives could be any different and that I'd do well to "let go of my Pollyanna ideas." I gently tried to persuade her otherwise, but gave up as soon as her eyes glazed over.

I am still bothered by the exchange this morning.

 I guess I'm looking for the right words to use in these situations - how to gracefully assert that there most certainly is another way to support people, without coming across as condescending myself. And I suppose I'm looking for reassurance myself, that I will indeed have the confidence/tools to truly make a positive difference for people, in the face of this kind of complacency.

In the overall, it makes me more determined than ever to remember and absorb all that we are learning, which feels good. And right. But...there is a niggling sense that I will muck it up, somehow.

I know that my absolute responsibility is toward those I support - in many ways, this feels a lot like coming up against different parenting styles and following my own heart regarding the ways in which I parent my own kids, despite the opinions and influences of others. Despite my overall confidence, I worry daily that I will, in the end, muck it all up.

Photo courtesy of Photobucket

Is this something that you struggle/d with, when you actively support/ed people? Feeling a bit like you're up against it? How do/did you remain steadfast on a day-to-day basis? And how did/do you guard against feeling discouraged by the prevalent attitudes of those around you?

I am hoping (hopeful) that more time absorbing all that we're being taught will help strengthen my resolve (much like time to become confident in my parenting skills...erm, most of the time)

It's all well and good for me to express shock and dismay and indignance about the ways in which people with disabilities are treated, here from the comfort of my comparatively charmed life, but it's not enough. Every day, it seems, I read another article/story/anecdote about the horrible ways in which society's most vulnerable are treated. In fact, I'm finding that these stories are piling up at an alarming rate. Not sure if it's that because society is becoming more aware or it's just that *I* am, but the truth remains the same: things must change.

 I know that I must be part of that change as so many, many things in life have led me to this point, this place, this knowing and I feel compelled to do this work. But still, I worry that I too will -eventually -become complacent and de-sensitized.

I hate feeling this way. Hate feeling that I will do the wrong thing, muck it all up, fail at such an important task...even before I've tried.

Is this normal? Please, tell me that this concern - this fear - is normal and not some deeply-rooted personality flaw.

Your Student


  1. Dear Student:

    Yes what you are experiencing is pretty much normal. And yes, if you are not vigilant you can end up getting drawn into oppressive service practices. The good news is - you know this very early on and you can be vigilant. There is more learning that can help. But there are other important things that can help: stay connected to like minded people, take professional development opportunities, always think about what you are doing, why you are doing it and who benefits. The number one thing that you can do to guard against losing your ideals is this - always remember that this is a human being you have in front of you, someone who is more like you than different, who is someone's child, sibling, grandchild, aunt/uncle, neice/nephew. They are precious, gifted and "worthy of love and belonging". Remember that it is your privelege to serve that person. Remember that it is their need that gives you a job. Always remember who you are and the kind of person you want to be and be that person.

    Can I tell you that this won't be a struggle, no I can't. Can I tell you that you won't get confused or discouraged, no I can't. Can I tell you that there won't be times when you have to make some really difficult choices, no I can't.

    I can tell you that it will be beautiful and worth the struggle and the cost. It will change you for the better and your heart will be full of what the people you support have given you.

    I can tell you something else. The fact that you are struggling with this now tells me that you are exactly who is needed to do this work.

    Warm regards
    Your teacher

  2. Oh, my. I am actually crying, reading this. Thank you. THANK you. I have been feeling all kinds of crummy about putting this out there, into the universe, even as I posted links on FB and Twitter. Even as I dread the replies, I seek them still.

    It will absolutely be my privilege to serve - as it will also, I believe, be my challenge. I suppose that, in a way, blogging my flailings is a way for ME to remain accountable to those I will support and to the person I want to be.

    Thank you, teacher. Whoever you are.

  3. Fear is normal, my friend. :)
    You are not flawed, you are passionate. And as long as you continue to face your fear and live your truth. You WILL be successful and you WILL make a difference to those around you.

    I believe fear is your minds way of telling you that you need to face something.
    More power to you!

  4. The job you seek to do is not one filled with ego. It is selfless. And if you know that going in -- that you cannot save everyone, but that you can certainly help many -- then you will be just fine.

    In this way, teaching and social work are similar. There will always be those who tell you that you are spending too much time on people who don't matter. I have never believed in this, and while it can be exhausting, I have no regrets about the path I have chosen.

    You will find work, my friend -- and you will shine.

  5. Thanks for the support and encouraging words, my friends. And for believing in me.

  6. A drop in the water creates many waves. :)