Sunday, May 6, 2012

Deep Respect for the Courage of Ordinary People

I am happy to report that the paper writing, work/school balancing, volunteering my time and talent at two community agencies with no financial reimbursement (however unsurpassed wisdom reimbursement) era is over. That’s right people, just yesterday, at 7:30 AM I submitted my last and final paper EVER as a graduate student.

The paper I submitted was a Capstone paper, in which I reflected on my experience in the Masters of Social Welfare Program. I thought I would share a few of my reflections with you all.

As I reflect on my educational experience in the MSW program, I have really begun to appreciate and embrace the importance of balance. Over the course of the last three years, I have had to learn how to balance my work, relationships, education, emotions, spirituality, mind, and body.  To be an adult means to accept the responsibility of constantly making choices. I have just recently begun reflecting on and noting how often and how well I am taking care of myself and others these days.

The stakes are high in the social work profession, if I do not care for myself I can become just as depressed, anxious, or angry as some of the clients I have worked with in the past. I need to think carefully about how I am going to continue to protect, replenish, and enjoy myself throughout my career. I am more active in some areas of self-care, but ignore others. For example eating healthily, exercising, making time for self-reflection, and finding things that make me laugh, contributing to causes in which I believe in, strengthening my spirituality and negotiating for my professional needs seem to be in balance. Areas of improvement include balancing my workload so that no one day or part of a day is “too much,” getting enough sleep, reading literature that is unrelated to work, devoting more time to personal relationships, and asking for help when I need it.

I have learned many valuable lessons throughout the course of my educational career; understanding that we are all more alike than we are different is of greatest importance. We have commonalities amongst our differences. In the end we all want the same things, beyond the basics such as food and shelter, we all want respect, revelation, relaxation, results, and relationships. Margaret Mead (a public face of anthropology) defined the ideal society as one that has a place for every human gift. The ideal human life allows for the development of those gifts and their use for the benefits of others.

As social workers, we deal with alcoholics, people with anger-control problems, psychopaths, people in crises, and the seriously mentally ill. We testify in custody and commitment hearings. We report child abuse and neglect. We counsel addicts and perpetrators. As social workers, we are invariably in the line of fire as frontline workers attempting to deal with some of the most economically, socially, and emotionally disenfranchised individuals in the human service business. Yet, ironically, I have begun to realize that amongst all the cruelties, most people are inherently decent and resilient.

I often feel a deep respect for the courage of ordinary people, the ones who get up every morning and do what needs to be done. Therapists are not miracle workers, nor should we be, but amongst the cruelties we are not helpless. Amid suffering, we can help others by providing adequate resources and wisdom to cope. More so than ever, I have recognized that my role as a social worker is to understand others’ points of views, alleviate what suffering I can, and enhance relationships.

Lastly, as the chapter of my life comes to an end, I believe that I have a responsibility to strengthen families. While families are imperfect institutions, they are also our greatest source of meaning, connection, and joy. As a society, I feel as though we have taken away the belief that families can make it. If we take away that belief, what do we replace it with? If people do not trust their families, who can they trust? Our role as social workers is time limited. Families, not therapist, will be there to solve the problems in the future. It’s important to realize that they have solved many problems in the past without our help.

I chose this career, because ultimately it proves that human beings are strong, resilient, and capable of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. What an empowering frame of mind to have as I approach the trials and tribulations of personal and professional life. As a professor in a previous class stated, “standing up to the intense heat of crisis situations to help people through seemingly unsolvable problems is some of the most gratifying and positively reinforcing work you can do.” Having the confidence and know-how to confront unexpected conflict head on is an invaluable skill to be learned.