Tuesday, October 10, 2006

They Treated Me Like ...

It was a relief to see her. We had heard, long after the fact, that she had been in a serious car accident and had only recently returned to work. A few details filtered down the phone line, about loss of conciousness, rehab and the like. We only saw her a couple times a year when we consulted with her and her agency, and it had become like spending time with a friend.

So there we sat at dinner listening to her tell us the story of the accident. It was truly miraculous that she was here with us. She described her continuing struggle to find words - when words once came so freely to her. Her difficulty in remembering when she needed to. Her general progress back. Then she said that one of the things that truly bothered her is that she was occasionally 'treated like a client' by those who she worked with. I sure got that having had that experience in the past.

Today driving home I thought about the comment. When it was made something rankled me. Now it became clear. I understood what she meant - that being treated like a client WASN'T A GOOD THING. This is something we all really understand. Here we are service providers hoping that we are never in the position to be treated like one we serve.

Ain't that a bit scary? Shouldn't we all do our jobs so well and with such respect and care for dignity that being treated like a client would be something that we'd all anticipate rather than fear.

I made a pledge in the car on the way down - treating someone like a client, for me, will mean treating someone well - with the honour they deserve, with the tolerance and compassion I will no longer reserve for only some, with the belief that God personally lights their eyes.

It is no secret that I've always seen human services as sacred work. As a mission. That until we see the wholly-ness of a person that we will always mis-serve them.

So, this is my missionary position -- humane service for human services.


Belinda said...

Your friend, I think, was experiencing being treated like "the other." She had ceased to be "one of us" and had become "one of them," which is the crux of the problem, isn't it? Humane service means that human beings serve other human beings and there is not really a whole lot of difference among us, just variety. As usual, I loved what you had to say.

Lily said...

I lead a team that supports children with autism in a residential setting. Dave, I will be checking daily for your blogs, printing them off, and posting them in our program communication book. What a incredible gift they are... I'm overwhelmed at the opportunity they will afford to share your powerful-for-change perspective with my team... Thank you for your generosity of spirit... Your few writings here have already challenged and inspired me.. I know that effect will be multiplied for everyone that reads them. That translates to a better life for the people we suppport. Thankyou, thank you, thank you!! God bless your efforts.

Jay said...

It ocurred to me one day after I was treated "like a client" that the problem is not one of misidentification but that there is a different way to treat people based on characteristics. But it's difficult to go from the personal feeling of oppression to the willingness to change how we treat people and how we stand aside for people to find the power to ask to be treated as equals.

This is something that the transgender male-to-female community struggles with a lot in coming from feminist commitment to experiencing male priviledge, especially when not passing. The struggle is about wanting to be treated "as a guy " because that's how the person identifies, but not wanting to take on male priviledge.

Which leads to the same question of: When we are mistaken for being something we are not that would indicate less social power, how do we address the situation without misusing priviledge? (For example, if a person is mistaken for being cognitively disabled and thus patronized, how can the person respond without saying "I'm not one of them?" and claiming intellectual priviledge, thus reinforcing that patronizing people with cognitive disabilities is acceptable?)