The drug addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill and deranged, the alcoholics, the beautifully and frighteningly crazy, the abusers, the molesters, the abused, the victimized, the rich, the poor, the privileged, the socially acceptable, the educated, the illiterate, the marginalized and stigmatized, the famous and the infamous: these are my clients. I have a deeply personal and profound understanding of how we, yes all of us, get to how we get, get to where we got. Whatever that looks like in (y)our respective world(s). I look for context, I pay attention, I listen to, I hear the story, I feel the pain. I give a damn. Really, I give a damn.
I endeavor to keep my own experience out of it, for contrary to popular belief, it is not useful, and it clouds my ability to see them (you) clearly. Moving me out as much as possible allows me to do my job with no judgment, and come at the problem from the perspective that the problem is the problem, manifesting in a person’s life, not the view that the person is the embodiment of the problem. This is how I can come at it from the only fair place there is, from humanity and heart, and with deep compassion, no matter the struggle, the crime, the heinousness of it all, personal, familial, cultural, political, systemic. I treat them with some dignity; it is often their first time, ever.
When I posted these words to one of my personal social media pages, in their brief, raw, unedited and in the moment-version following two extremely heart-wrenching work days, I received wonderfully upbeat and positive feedback, and the word amazing was used by many of my friends to describe me, and how I do my job.
Yes, there are days when it feels that way, but more often than not, my work reality (and by extension other parts of my life), are not always amazing, unless of course I modify it to amazingly painful. There are too many days when I am, as judged as the people I work with, for understanding, for not being disgusted with why they are seeking my professional services, for caring, about their humanity in really tough situations. Let me be clear, I am judged, I do not, simply feel that way.
The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people. -Noam Chomsky
For you see, there are different levels of acceptability in terms of compassion and empathy, and as a human-helper type, it appears that I am afforded the right to feel these emotions for some, but not for others. The criteria for discerning between those deserving of my understanding or indifference, and by extension my very best, most creative and heartfelt professional services, you know, human services, as opposed to more of the big-box they find in our systems; is entirely dependent on the nature of their struggle. Whether or not it is deemed as self or other inflicted, socially acceptable, or a current taboo, their socio-economic position in the world, are they deserving or undeserving poor, their ethnicity, their skin colour, their perceived level of (dis)ability, their level of formal education, and other socially constructed boxes, assumptions and norms. What a joke. What an excruciatingly painful joke, on me, on them, on all of us.
Make no mistake: my clients (or as I refer to them, the folks I work for), are you, me, and everyone else that you can imagine. They are NOT those people, them, they are us. And if you don’t believe that you and I fit into the same box, I will urge you to check, and make certain that you are indeed, human.
I’m pissed, and let me clear; I am not an angry person (any more). As we know, anger is a secondary emotion, and mine, 99.9% of the time, is the cover emotion to spiritual, emotional, and/or psychological pain. It wounds my heart, damages my spirit, and hurts my brain, when I am weighed down with the shackles of the box. You know, the one I keep blowing up, but find myself repeatedly stuffed into. For it is continuously in the process of being reconstructed, remodeled, and renovated, using ever more covert methods to try and fool me, and you, into thinking that it is OK to think about, and treat some people, and animals and plants for that matter, better than others. The hu(man) created hierarchy of love and deserving-ness, our, their, your, relative importance in this world. The socially and politically created rules and contracts, belief systems, propaganda, and dogma, that are fed to us, explicitly and implicitly, in boxed media like CNN, FOX and essentially any network ‘news’ program, airing on what truly has become the idiot box, or printed in any mainstream newspaper and/or magazine, and so much bullshit on the internet.
The toxic fodder of judgment and victim blaming, are either gingerly spoon fed me (and you) in a manner so devious yet transparent that I am not certain whether to rejoice at my ability to see it, or despair at the greasiness of it, or it is rammed down my throat so overtly and aggressively that it feels as though the proverbial pitchfork is choking every last piece of civility and compassion out of my person. There is very little middle ground in how I am viewed where my position and outlook on the human condition is concerned. I am either a saint, amazing and awesome because I help those people, you know, the ones who deserve my help and (y)our compassion; or I am a bitch and sympathizer of bad and evil wrongdoers, you know, the ones who created their own and other’s misery, the ones not worthy of any kind of hand up, human understanding, effort, or absolution; Ever.
The skills and tools I use to survive and thrive in the worlds (work and personal) that I occupy, are accessible to us all, but too often, from where I sit, misused. Utilized as the means to a personal, self-centered end that has nothing to do with anyone but one’s own need for justification and rationalization of the atrocities of the world we live in, the comfort and ease of continuing to ignore how our every action and inaction, impacts/contributes to, the lives and misery of others, near and far.
Every single day; I go into my life (and others’) on a wing and prayer. The wing of a dragon called Love and the wrongfully attributed prayer of St. Francis. I know, for a non-religious spiritualist, leaning more and more toward atheism, this is a stretch, but it works. It allows me to get out of my own way and do my job, well. I have come to rely on a personally modified version of what I prefer to call a mantra as opposed to a prayer, really, I cannot pray to any ‘master,’ I beg the gods of the dragon world I escape to, because come on, dragons are cool, to help me get through the day without in turn, judging the judgers, hating the haters, carrying that weight to the already overburdened folks I serve, and then wearing it home to try and deal with on my own, and worse, dumping it on the people closest to me.
If you know anything about me at all, you will know that I hold the dubious privilege of insider knowledge and experience, as it pertains to many of my work people’s pain (Manifesto of Pain and Personal Power) and I mean from the hurting perspectives of both victim and victimizer. I was harmed, and a dearth of effective coping skills and tools, however honestly earned, led me to harming others. Primarily the people I love most, the ones who love me, relied on me most, self included.
Please, make no mistake, this is not an exercise in self flagellation, though to this day, I do still excel in that sport; it is a way of making a point. So let’s get to that shall we? I know, you are waiting… context, it is all about context my friends, and that, I know, can feel truly cumbersome. For it is much simpler to jump to a conclusion, exclude any context, build and insert any given human and their actions into a box, make a decision about who someone is, why they did what they did and thus, feel better about self and our own shortcomings.
As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.” -Noam Chomsky
So, the point: the most difficult part of my work day is not what I do with the folks who pay me for support in sorting out their lives, it is everyone’s opinion of them, of me, and of my position on any given social-worky-human-service issue and by immediate extension, my position on and compassion for, the individuals perpetrating the human deeds deemed acceptable/unacceptable in our world, and in direct relation, redemption worthy, or not. By default, that position for me is one of Unconditional Positive Regard. I will let you do your own research on it, but it is an extension of what I said earlier about the problem being the problem, one of the foundational concepts of Narrative Therapy, one that removes the issue as the personal pathology of the person, and places it within its rightful, from where I sit anyway, context.
And before you jump down my throat to join that pitchfork I am gagged with as a matter of course, this does not mean that I co-sign bad, hurtful, criminal, self and/or other-harming behavior. It simply means that I do my best to see the human as human, and as such, as someone who came by their stuff honestly, not, as the sum of their actions. Because really, if I were to tally the total of all my least palatable moments over the last 53 years, calculate the total carnage that some of my actions created, I could not allow me, or you, to think of me as amazing, awesome, or anything useful, what-so-ever. And please, I beg you not to come at me with ‘but look how you turned it around’ or similarly gag-reflex provoking commentary. I did not stop until the second I stopped, did not change until there was no other recourse, and most importantly, please, take this piece to heart: had there not been folks, specifically two human service helper types, who looked for, and saw the well-hidden humanity and potential, inside some of the outwardly visible sub-human actions, I would not be here to accept the amazing and other accolades.
I would be dead. Period. End of (this) story, for now.
Yours, with all the love I have, always,