When I was a child, I would have bet you all the money in my piggy bank that my second grade teacher’s first name was “Mrs.” and that she lived in the school. (Between you and me, I’m pretty sure she slept in the reading nook and dined on feasts of chocolate milk and spaghetti with the other teachers after the school buses took the students home.) I simply couldn’t imagine that my teacher was anything other than my teacher.
Now, I find myself wondering whether I see myself in the same way and whether, as social workers, we’re ever “just social workers.” For example, today my morning felt hectic due to a dog who wanted more attention than I had time to give and having to wait a longer time for the shared bathroom than I’d planned into my morning schedule. When I came into the office, it wasn’t easy to suddenly drop that rushed feeling and become the calm social worker I’m expected to be. It makes me wonder how many moms and grandpas and partners and pet-owners there are among us Social Workers and how often we all carry our morning baggage in with us, unbeknownst to those around us.
Maybe this is bigger than that though. I suddenly find myself reconsidering everyone around me… maybe “unfriendly-grocery-store-cashier” is also “single-mother-of-four-working-too-many-hours-and-sleeping-too-few.” Maybe “super-rude-customer-service-man-who-kept-me-on-hold-for-45-stinking-minutes” is also “wife-just-served-surprise-divorce-papers-this-morning” or “layoffs-mean-he-is-now-required-to-do-the-work-of-two-people-for-the-same-rate-of-pay-he’s-always-gotten.” What about our beliefs as social workers, activists, and helpers? Was Martin Luther King, Jr. ever “man-going-to-the-store-to-buy-milk” or was he always “activist-man-going-to-the-store-to-buy-milk?” Are we ever just parents, just partners/spouses, just friends, or just anything? Maybe the same innate traits that led us to become social workers emanate from us no matter what we’re doing. And, if this is true, are we ever truly able to put ourselves completely aside or are we always viewing our surroundings and clients through our own colored lenses?
There’s a quote I love, from a man I’ve never heard of (Delbert Stapley), “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” I think of it often, in all types of situations, and I find it applicable here. Perhaps we should all take a moment and figure out who we are, both to the world and to ourselves. I wonder if such introspection might make it easier to understand how others choose to approach us.
Until Next Week,
Welcome to The New Social Worker's Blog
The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.
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