My Blog Motto

"Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgement"

~Rita Mae Brown

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fallen Angels and Reluctant Saints

When you work with youth you get a lot of very nice compliments. People say things like :oh the work you do is so important" and "I bet those kids really appreciate you" and even, god forbid, "You are a saint"
It's important to note that these well meaning kind gestures almost always come from people who do NOT work with youth. If they did there would be a few things they would understand. Like the fact that sometimes when discussing a case with a co-worker, you might refer to a teenager as a "complete dick" or some other colorful descriptive term. Like the fact that on many occasions you find yourself nearly dissociated in the midst of chaos and arguing questioning all of your life choices up to this point and considering that throwing your keys on the desk and walking out the door might be your best chance at salvaging what is left of your life. That you look at your paycheck in comparison to your student loan debt and realize that you will never be able to pay even the interest. That you will probably never own a new car or a house (unless you are lucky enough to be partnered with someone who has made more lucrative career choices)
A very good friend and co-worker of mine once responded to the old "you're such a good person" platitude with the best response I've ever heard. He said, "no I'm NOT a very good person, that's why I do this work" I understood his meaning behind that. It was not intended as a sort of self flagellation an atonement for mistakes made earlier in life, but rather an affirmation that it takes one to know one. In order to be fully present and empathetic with troubled youth, having a history of one's own troubled youth goes a long way. It goes a long way in having the strength and resilience to let the insults roll off your back, because you have probably hurled similar insults at adults in your day. You understand that the testing they put you through is merely their way of finding out if you will care for them unconditionally or if you will turn your back on them and abandon them as so many have done before you. You know that they crave the same things you craved yet resisted when you were a troubled youth. There is the promise of some redemption, some healing of your own wounded child if only you can give them the kind of guidance you were denied. But don't expect accolades from the ones you nurture, they are more often than not likely to reject your acceptance, because it goes against everything they have experienced so far. No we don't do this for accolades and appreciation. In fact many of us don't even really understand why we do it, we just do because it's something we feel driven to do. A calling perhaps, a compulsion, maybe if you've been lucky, a tribute to someone who helped you out along the way.
So, please, when I tell you  what I do for a living don't tell me what a wonderful person I am. Don't attempt to canonize me. Just say thanks. The appreciation for a job well done goes a long way in any field.
And it wouldn't hurt my feelings if you ever have the chance to lobby or appeal for better pay for youth workers. We make on average 10 to 20 grand less per year than teachers. And we don't have a union (in fact the National organization that represents social workers seems to recoil from the idea of unionization...we're supposed to be in this for the love of the work, not much more. And while we do love the work, (who would go back to the place that just yesterday triggered a massive existential crisis if they didn't? ) we work very hard and for not much more than fulfillment of that nagging compulsion to be where we are. We are not saints, we are simply following out destiny.

© 2010-2016 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard