Some of my clients make it really difficult to be compassionate, but I try to remind myself that I may be the one person they can expect it from with any sort of consistency.
My coworkers would likely say that it isn’t necessarily in my job description and that oftentimes, compassion makes my job more difficult than it need be and our stated goal of self-sufficiency for our clients less likely.
I guess, maybe, they believe that being nice gets in the way of helping people.
My idea is that helping takes many forms… some social workers do it best by being curt and all-business and never showing a bit of their own humanity with clients. That doesn’t work so well for me, as I’m not such a good pretender.
Anyway… I often feel as if I spend an inordinate amount of my workday talking to people.
Okay… that’s probably an outright lie.
My internal editor stops me, sometimes, to remind me that there are a few people who read this blog who actually know me and who’ll recognize a lie that I try to pass along to all of you invisible internet friends.
I spend a lot of time listening to people. I don’t generally have the chance to say very much at all. Clients like to yell at me a lot. I don’t so much like that; in fact it makes me really uncomfortable and trembly with pent-up smart aleck responses to their hostility. But still I try to really listen to them. Listen to whatever it is that is at the root of their anger or their hurt or their fear. They’re not upset with me, usually, directly, but instead it’s their way of venting with someone who they imagine can change things for them, help them, maybe make things better.
It’s my job, somedays, just to let them yell.
They’re not all like this, thank heavens. Some clients are just looking for reassurance, or support, or someone to share their hard-won victories with. I listen to those clients, too, and celebrate with them.
This really isn’t productive though, right? It does nothing to reduce the piles of paper that always threaten to engulf me. There’s no visible product to present to my boss at the end of the day.
I guess for me a productive day looks much the same as any other. I wake up happy and I accomplish something, hopefully. But I can’t ever feel really satisfied unless there’s a sense that I’ve contributed in some small way to someone else’s welfare. I feel most grateful when given the opportunity to share a moment with someone – to listen in a way someone hasn’t been listened to before or to tell a story that gets someone thinking differently. Then I feel productive and as if the day’s been worth living.
That moment came for me today, after being screamed at by various others, from a client with mental health issues. He’s taken to calling me every couple days to check in and usually I just “yes” my way through any conversation with him in order to get back to the important paperwork in front of me. Today, though, I stopped to really listen and to appreciate the blessing of a client who wanted nothing from me, had no complaint or pressing need, but instead just wanted to say hello and to tell me about his day.
I think we all need help at one time or another and need to be able to depend on compassion from others, be it frazzled social workers or strangers, even. Compassion feels good, helps us, and makes the world a nicer place, somehow.
Even when it gives me a headache and makes me want to put my head in the oven.
These pics, from a less *productive* moment during my day in the field yesterday; from in and around the delapidated casino on the boardwalk at Asbury Park.
Picture-taking is another productive thing I do for myself most days; a chance to see and feel without much thought or concern for the end product.