They were exciting times. We were all there. All on a mission. It was a brand new group home set up to welcome people home during one of the first waves of deinstitutionalization. Every single staff had personal reasons to be there, to be part of the movement to bring people home. They must have interviewed well because every single one of us had personal passion and a zealousness about the job that was staggering. Not only that we were as diverse as a group of white people could be ... we came from different backgrounds and differing beliefs and divergent life situations. It all added to the mix.
And did we fight. And argue. And debate. We tossed philosophical concepts around with abandon. Staff meetings were full of opinion and dissent. People with disabilities, those who lived there were oddly the subject of the debates but never actually a part of one of them. We talked about Normalization and about Integration and about Freedom.
Long before Survivor ever aired we had camps and allies ... skirmishes and victories. There were those that were in and those that were out, and sometimes on various issues the alliances changed and the boundaries between groups became porous. It was fun, and healthy ... every opinion was aired, every point of view taken into consideration. We were growing as a group and as individual staff.
Then we were called in by the supervisor to a manditory - all in - meeting. We were informed that the subject of sexuality, which had been hotly debated, was closed. The answer was 'no' there would be no sexual expression allowed in the house. For weeks we had been talking about the residents right to have 'guests' in their room for 'private time' ... this was 20 years ago, we were ahead of our time we thought. Then it all collapsed, the discussion was cut short. Even those on the 'no' side were upset that management had just decided. All except one staff who, normally boisterous, was quiet.
We figured it out in the meeting and confronted her.
She was resolute. She admitted that she had been upset by the discussion and had gone to the supervisor and said that for her this was a 'workplace' issue and her rights as an 'employee' were on the line. She would be uncomfortable with the residents having sex and she felt that she would be working in a hostile environment if we adopted a liberal policy.
I was gobsmacked.
I still am, years later.
What happened to the idea of boundaries. I am me and you are you. It seems simple. What you do does not affect who I am. What I do does not affect who you are. I have a strong sense of self, I can be with people who have differing opinions and differing ideals even differing behaviours and not feel like my soul is under threat.
This should be especially true in the field of human service. To any population. I am here to create living situations where people can be who they are, who they were created to be ... I am not here to justify my values by imposing them on others.
There has to be a space between ourselves and those who we serve. A space to breathe and to differentiate.
There has to be a space between our values and our voices. Where we learn to harness ourselves for the good of others.
There has to be a space between our control and our grasp. Where we learn to subvert our inclincation to power.
I have to learn to restrain who I am, and the power that I have ... it should be a fundamental question in interviews ... how do you hold you back so that they can be freely they.
In between me and you ... there must be respect.
And, on my part, silence.
Thanks Dave for your insightful posts. I have been an admirer of your work since I saw you speak many years ago at a conference on the Oregon coast - late 80s/early 90s. I ordered your books, I Contact and I to I and have referred to them for inspiration repeatedly whenever I needed a boost.
Unfortunately, the sitation you describe in this post has happened all too often, and I know I have too been the silent one.
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