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Thursday, May 11, 2006

I still feel hopelessly naive, or guillably hopeful. I'm the only one who still believes a woman when she says something about her life. I work so hard for my clients that I like to at least pretend that what we've accomplished together, they'll take on and continue long after I'm gone.

I guess I can accept that I am only able to do so much, and then wash my hands of it, and let the woman do whatever she was always planning on doing regardless of me. If someone decides to go back to the person who beats the crap out of her because she believes that this time when he says, "I've changed," it's true, there's nothing I can do about it, so my feelings are not going to be hurt. I'm not going to cry about it.

But when I work to help someone, and my coworkers say, "she's not going to do it; she's going to lose her apartment/go back to him/fail in all ways," and they say this because they can "read a person," it makes me lose hope, and it makes me feel like I'm shit at reading people. Something I think a social worker actually has to be halfway decent at.

Which makes me rethink my career completely and totally. Why am I going into this if I am terribly naive and hopeless at really understanding and knowing people? And what's wrong with me that I can't pick up on people's nonverbals--that I take everyone at face value, that I let them present to me the person they want me to know?

But I also think it's dangerous to start evaluating people. A part of me feels like, no matter whether I believe it truly or not, I have to at least pretend like everyone I work with is going to make big changes in her life, protect herself from violence, and become an independent woman. Because otherwise, I just don't know if I could continue my work. And I don't think it would be fair to, say, bend over backwards to help one woman find a job or an apartment just because I think she'll really stick with the job, stick with the lease, but give lukewarm effort to another because I believe she'll drop everything once her boyfriend finds her again and says, "baby, I miss you."

But of course I always focus on the negatives, and I wonder what is wrong with me that I am so naive and hopeful?

The woman who says all this is actually one of my favorite people at work. This week, she saw my countdown on my bulletin board--thick black Xs marking out the months until I leave. And she laughed, and said, "I bet you're ready to go!" I moaned to her how burnt out I am, and she said, "but you can't let that show in your work. You gotta keep doing your job . . ."

Part of me feels like I am very realistic, and divorced, in some ways, from feeling much for the job. I know not everyone I touch is not going to become golden. I only have one or two people that I could still brag about, in a year and a half, and an uncountable number who went back to or on to someone new who hits them. That's life, and I don't cry about it at home. I'm not a miracle worker. But I still have to act like miracles will happen, and I continuously wonder if that makes me a weaker social worker.

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Blogger Lesley said...

If you weren't hopeful, then what would be the point to helping anyone? It seems better to be hopeful and naive than always and immediately distrustful of people.

I was just thinking: I've heard stories about university classes that tell students up front how all of their paper will be fed through a software program that basically sniffs out plagiarism. I don't like that idea because it assumes everyone will be deceptive, and thus, everyone is already lost. So why teach the course? I know that these situations are *very* different -- physical & emotional harm vs a fake paper -- but in both cases, if we assume the person will fail, then why are we even trying to help in the first place?

I hope you stay hopeful. :)

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't think you are feeling anything that every single person who has done social services work hasn't felt.

But it brought to mind the words of my old case manager. She was a 14 year veteran of Allegheny County CYF, before she moved to CASA to supervise 30 volunteers and their assignments.

Anyway, she always stressed that we should learn to read people. Trust our guts (especially when it came to out of office work and safety.) But that reading people and judging people were two different things.

One of her biggest reasons was the fear of short-changing someone who needed help. That we could always make good guesses about who would be successful and who wouldn't, but they would never be more than guesses and we wouldn't know until we put in all the effort we could, on each and every case.


8:16 AM  

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