Tag Archives: social work

Links, from me to you

I’ve never done this before, and you all might tell me you hate it, in which case I’ll probably never do it again.

But my ‘interesting stuff I’m not sure what to do with” email folder has gotten pretty full, and my calendar has gotten super tight, and I’m quite candidly not as diligent about Twitter as I should be, so I thought I’d give this a try.

Here are some links that I don’t want you to miss. I’d love to hear your reaction to them, and I’d be delighted to discuss them, but I just don’t know how to pull each into a coherent blog post of its own.

So, instead, a sort-of early holiday present:

some links, from me to you.

What do you think?

Doing good for a living

MN 1026

Tomorrow is my birthday.

If you’re like me, birthdays mean a lot of self-reflection.

I find myself thinking about where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what’s next.

And I do a lot of pragmatic planning, prompted by the more existential reflections.

It was going through my calendar, for the mundane, that I came across a quote from one of my guest speakers from last spring’s class.

“I realized I could fight the good fight for a living.”

And that’s what I’m thinking about, during this birthday week:

How really, really, really lucky I am to get to make my living doing work that gives meaning to my life. Really, really lucky.

I mean, we all complain, sometimes, about having too much work or feeling under-appreciated. And I think that can be cathartic.

But I know that I never dreamed, when I thought about my career, that I could cobble together work that makes me feel connected and valuable, while still making it possible for me to dabble in lost causes and wrap up my kids in regular hugs.

So, I guess this is more of a birthday ‘cheers’, to those of you who have, similarly, found a way in this broken society to pay your bills while changing the world, and to those who are looking for a path through which to do the same.

They are good fights, and we need them, and you deserve to eat and rest and buy a new sweater or sit on the beach sometimes, while you fight them.

I vow to never stop being grateful that it’s possible.

Making a difference with what you have

I facilitated a workshop on nonprofit advocacy last spring, and the School videotaped it, so that practitioners who couldn’t be there with us for the 1.5 hours could use the conversation as a resource to figure out how to integrate social change strategies into their organizations and their work.

I really try to focus on leveraging the existing assets and capacities of nonprofit social service agencies for social change, and giving social workers tools to help them make small shifts that can yield big dividends. It’s the main area of my practice now, so it was fun to get to try out some of what I use with my consulting clients, among an all-social work crowd.

Here is the link.

I’d love to hear your comments; we had great engagement during the session, but nothing is more rewarding and challenging for me than the discussions we have here.

‘Balance’ and urgency

In a couple of places in Creating Room to Read, the founder/author emphasizes the need for urgent action.

“Every day we lose is a day we can’t get back” (p. 7).

It’s a feeling I share, a compulsion, really, that has prompted more than one person to tell me that I have a ‘savior complex’.

And it can be a very good thing, this urgency, if it pushes us to evaluate every organizational decision in light of the questions:

How can we reach more people, in more places, with more needs, more quickly? (p. 201)

How can we fill the vacuum around this issue before someone else–with a different agenda and different impacts on those we serve–does?

How can we do what needs to be done, as cheaply and quickly and well as is humanly possible, since the world really needed it metaphorically ‘yesterday’?

This almost-manic urgency applies, of course, to so many of the social problems on which we are working, not just to global literacy. Really, I would argue that everything worth fixing in today’s broken world is worth fixing now, and there’s always more work to be done than we can possibly clear off our desks before the end of the day.


How can we justify taking a break, even when we need one, when the need is already outpacing our abilities?

How can we care for ourselves, without using ‘self-care’ as an excuse to retreat from the desperately urgent work that needs us?

How can we prevent falling for the savior thing, when the truth is that the people we serve and assist aren’t waiting for us to swoop in and rescue anyone.

How can we approach that elusive ‘balance’ that seems to be so important for preventing burnout and sustaining our commitment–and our effectiveness–when every day that we take off is a day that we’re not getting closer to the world as it should be?

How do you answer these questions, in your own field, and in your own practice? How do you calibrate the pace of your life, given the urgency with which problems press? How do you surround yourself with a team, to prevent the temptation of thinking that we are one-person shows? How do you harness the passion and energy that comes with urgency, without slipping into the ‘busier-than-thou’ martyrdom that turns people off? How do you reflect strengths and possibility while convincing people that they need to be part of our cause–today?


Close knowledge makes a difference

There was another part from The Ghost Map that made me think about social work, and about you all, which means that it ends up here.

So, yes, just a little more cholera.

See, the doctor who ended up tracing the spread of the disease, and documenting the outbreak in a way that gave needed credibility to germ theory and ultimately brought down the idea of ‘miasma’ (smell=disease), was from the neighborhood.

He lived near Broad Street, where the pump contaminated with cholera was located, and that intimate knowledge was essential to helping him untangle the truth.

At the time, remember, most people thought that, since smell brought disease, dirty houses (read: poor people) would have the most illness, because they would smell bad. There were many low-income households in and around the area infected with cholera, and, so, most of the ‘outside experts’ were quick to conclude that it was their poverty, and the smells associated with it, that were quite literally killing them.

But John Snow knew better.

He knew of wealthier households living next to poorer ones, where both fell ill. He knew of very poor households that nonetheless maintained immaculately clean homes. He knew that most of the stereotypes were flawed. He knew that people were dying–real people, with grieving families–because he knew many of those afflicted.

This knowledge meant that he couldn’t fall back on the prevailing wisdom or the platitudes about poverty and disease. He could see facts more clearly, and his inquiry had an urgency stemming from his investment in the community and its suffering people.

And that, I believe, has lessons for social work advocates, too.

I believe that we can work effectively across communities, and that skills and relationships and real empathy are just as important as ‘matching’ membership on specific criteria.

But I also believe that it might be easier to miss things, nuances that really matter, if we see a community more as monolithic, which we’re more likely to do if we’re not embedded in it. I believe that too much distance can render us less effective, less committed, and, ultimately, less likely to succeed.

That’s one of the reasons that social workers make great organizers, and great advocates–we’re on the ground and we know how these issues work and we tend to notice details. We know and care about our work, and that matters for how we engage with it.

In history and still today, being close to the truth makes it more likely we find it.

Inspiration for the Journey

On this last day of February, this is my last post (for now) about my plans for the Advanced Advocacy and Community Practice course.

I’m ending the semester with a sort of ‘sending off’.

One of the hardest parts of advocacy practice–in my life, and, I believe, in the lives of many social work practitioners–is sustaining oneself for the journey.

It’s not just about preventing burnout, although that is, of course, important. It’s also about finding a sort of group of colleagues–a team–even when, in many organizations and fields of practice, there are relatively few social workers and/or relatively few practitioners engaged in advocacy practice in a concerted way.

It’s about finding sources of inspiration to give perspective during difficult fights. It requires the ability to center oneself on an animating vision–the world as it should be–without giving up in despair when we fall so short of that ideal. It requires taking care of oneself without retreating to the exclusively private sphere.

It is, of course, a very tall order for a 2.75-hour class period.

I’m going to show some film clips and share some poetry and have them do some journaling. We’re going to utilize some online forums to connect ourselves. I will, as I do every year, offer myself as a mentor and cheerleader.

There may be tears.

And, I’m hoping to crowd-source it a bit.

What sustains you?

What examples are inspiring to you? What do you do to take care of yourself? How do you stay connected with peers? How do you keep going during difficult times?

What advice would you offer to my students, as they begin their own advocacy careers?

What lights would you offer for their journey?

Elections in the rearview mirror, through a social work lens

Like most people, I still have a lot of jumbled-up thoughts about Election Day on Tuesday.

I mean, mainly there is some relief–I had a 6-year-old whose world would have been shattered if Ohio had gone for Obama. And I really, really like that six-year-old.

But I also have the conversations–in this space and in my classroom and with social work colleagues–reverberating in my head, about whether the fiscal cliff means that big cuts in important social programs are coming no matter what, and about whether spending an estimated $6 billion to end up with the same basic political balance of power is, really a good investment.

I wonder about the dangers of equating activism with casting a ballot, and how that constrains our vision of ourselves as civic beings.

And I worry, a lot, about this call for Americans to ‘come together’, since I think this election exposes that we have very, very different ideas about a vision of our country’s future.

What does compromise mean, when people’s views about who should lead us broke down, to a large extent, along demographic lines? What will it take for a President Obama to come to an agreement on tax policy with Speaker Boehner, and what does it mean if he can’t, on any terms that we as social workers would want to accept?

What does it mean, for our future–that of our profession, and the policies that govern us, and the people we dedicate our careers to serve–that about 50% of the country prefers very different policies in almost all of areas where social workers practice (health care, welfare, education) than the other 50%?

If no one has a ‘mandate’, how do we move forward? Can standing at an impasse be a strategy, to hold the line?

What does ‘having a voice’, as so many people talked about in my social media feeds yesterday, referring to their votes, look like on November 8, 2012, instead of the 6th? How do we make our votes just the beginning, instead of the culmination?

Instead of getting back to normal, now that the ads that TV watchers see are done, how do we dedicate ourselves to a civic life that could result in a coming together that looks more like progress and less like capitulation?

I have more unanswered questions than I did two days ago, I think. And they are of more profound variety than, say, “what will turnout look like in Cuyahoga County?”

Anyone want to share some answers?