Friday, March 30, 2007

open thread friday

i had a particular post in mind but something else has come up and it is more- pressing.

as many of you know, at one time, i worked in human services. now, that's just a fancy way of saying i worked with people in need for shit wages. sounds better though- more noble. what i found was, many folks who worked with me- and me included- would 'take our work home' with us after shift- especially since i worked in a residential facility for teens. it was a group home and all of us well meaning lefties wanted to make up for the fact that these girls had a shit life at home. we cooked and cleaned and slaved and listened and hugged- but you know what? it wasn't good enough. know why? it wasn't what the girls wanted.

sure, it's nice having someone to listen to you and to empathize with you- but what you really want is to go home- dysfunction and all. well, let's just say residential is for the young, idealistic folks because the burnout rate is high. why? stress? sure. these girls weren't violent but hey, there were moments of crisis. what really burned these folks out- taking on the girl's issues.

in the spirit of helpfullness that plagues the left, my colleagues 'owned' the girls issues and responsibility to work on her part in the dysfunction. you can't change anyone else but yourself- but these kind folks were trying to figure out ways that the young lady could overcome. why? it is in our nature to want everyone to 'be happy.' not a reality- but when it comes to young people- we especially want them to be happy. i think it's the 'norman rockwell syndrome' that america has- especially amongst the helpers of this world.

anyhoo- i would try to talk to my staff about this very thing- let the girl own it not you. she is the one who has to live HER life not you. you have your own life. helping people does not involve you taking on their problems. joe shmow is an addict- well, you can't do a damned thing about it. he has to. actions in life have consequences- good and bad- was my mantra. now, i don't know how much the staff listened- but the girls got it (along with wearing white cotton crotch underpants- but that's a different story). how many went on to be successful- i will never know. but--they are living the life that is theirs- not mine. who am i to measure their success? all i could do for one moment in their life- was support them and help them when they let me. i have been away from the human services business for 2 years or so now and i have a clear conscience and a clear mind. i don't worry about the girls because i know i did the best i could- and while they were in my care- so did they. raise the bar of expectations because folks will rise to meet it. set aside arrogance that you are the only one on the planet who can help these folks- and offer them the tools to do it on their own. pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is part of the american dream, no?


dawn said...

I think it is a hard profession to be in and yes teaching how to own ones self is the right thing because down the road you won't be there to make there decision but I have to say there has never been a time when I haven't taken problems home with me but I am the worrier type. I have learned to do it less. I believe I was put here to help and I try. You my friend are the same way

Time said...

Bootstraps? Yes. Here are some of my cold heart opinions.

Help is to teach people how to do for themselves.

The kids are the ones who should have been doing the cooking, cleaning, laundry, ect., ect... Help would be to show them how to do those things.

Chores that they will have to do the rest of their lives, no matter what personal problems they have to face. Some of the basics of, "getting by."

Work has a way of taking one's mind off other problems. Chores, part-time work (yes even for young kids), and school (homework and learning) are things to become part of their everyday existence.

To build self-respect, self-confidence, self-pride in doing anything, well. To help find what you might be good at, or what your personal limitation are.

These are character building tools that will help make life better, whatever comes their way, throughout their lives.

I'm not talking about financial, material success. I'm talking about building pride and confidence in your-self. To have confidence that you can tackle new things that come your way. To know that you can handle the tough times.

These are some of the base tools, that will help work towards a hard process of achieving one's dreams. That can build financial and material comfort.

I was living without parents from the age of 12. The hard facts hit me. I had to fend for myself. I started with the basics. Learning to cook, do laundry, and make some money.

None of this eliminated my personal or psychological problems, but helped me survive while I worked through those problems.

It also helped me forget those problems, because I had more pressing things to worry about.

Those were problems of "repair." There was nothing I could do about changing or erasing the past, but I needed to go on.

Who knows what happened to those kids you helped, but hopefully they had the basics to start with.

If they ended up mopping floors the rest of their lives, could they do that with pride and self-respect, thus keeping their sanity while surviving?

Tough love?

Just life.

betmo said...

time- i couldn't agree more. the girls had chores to do so they learned skills but i doubt that they learned much from their time with us. when one is focused on one goal- to go home- there is little focus on learning anything new. i have a feeling that life is teaching them many things- some good and some not. i have the rumblings of a post on the subject of charity and social programs on paper. have to think about it some more.

Carol Gee said...

betmo, I like it that you write about this subject. I've been retired for 4 years. Working at keeping good boundaries was a constant challenge for me. Those of us in the "helping professions" were often at risk of unconscious codependence. Modeling boundaries probably worked better than all the "taking home" stuff.
I used to say to the therapists I supervised that I could not take credit for clients' progress, nor blame for their set-backs, which is, I think, what you are saying. Excellent post, b.

The Future Was Yesterday said...

Time took my comment right out from under me, and said it far better, to boot.

it wasn't what the girls wanted.
As one of those "bleeding heart lefties" who's spent a little time in that grossly underpaid field, it's been my observation that we're there to give them what they need, vs what they want. And Time nailed it - tough love, which if done properly, translates into discipline.

Thanks for bringing up an issue that does burn many out, should have it's pay tripled, and only gets worse.

And those are the positive things about social work!:)

Hugs to you for sticking it out as long as you did.

Naj said...

I learned "not to help" when I was a hot 19 years old activist in Engineering school, and intent on getting myself kicked out of engineering school because of the social causes I wanted to fight.

Of course, the social causes I wanted to fight were not even remotely related to my own personal experience: I had all in life, and I thought it was unfair that others didn't have all that I had, and so I thought the existentialist purpose fo my life was to 1) lose all that I had and 2) to make others have as much as I had!

My delusions came to end when with a group of like minded students, we decided to go prepare a documentary report in the slums of Tehran. Very soon, however, I realized the ugliness of the arrogance that had brought me to those slums: I was there thinking of myself as the savior, as the savant, as the powerful; I had gone there to look at "their problem" from my elevated and elated POV.

I sickened me in that moment, but I found salvage in drifting away from our group and merging in the kids, conversing with them, letting them ask me questions and asking them questions. The wanted to tell me of their dreams. I didn't ask what their dreams was. And they didn't tell me of their dream because they thought I would make it come true.

It was "they" who offered me charity, and it was they who were generous to me, by offering me their small portion of candies, pine nuts, tokens of their hospitality and pride.