Saturday, July 25, 2009


When this blog was first conceptualized, I decided that it would be a blog wherein I did not comment on the comments. I know that most blogs do but I also knew that I would find that the extra work involved would end up having me resent the blog over time. Thus, though I love getting comments, I do not typically respond to them. I certainly, in three years, have only once, maybe twice, pulled something from the comment section into the blog itself. I hesitate to do this, and I apologize, now, publically, if I overtly offend the comment maker.

To a recent blog, someone wrote:

Please don't always attribute 'their own agenda' or bad intentions into what is sometimes just lack of good training, laziness, or dysfunctional work hierarchies where the staff on the bottom get beaten down regularly.

Generally staff at human service agencies work long hours, get low pay, don't get respect from folks in the worlds of commerce, education, government, OR EVEN their own supervisors and bosses....and if you are not treated respectfully it is hard to always be respectful to others.....

And to this I respond:

Oh, dear.

I cannot disagree more. I cannot disagree with greater vigour. I cannot stay silent in the face of this comment.

Now much here is true. People come into human services for a variety of reasons. Some with a passion, some with a need, most with good in their hearts. They come up against unfeeling systems and overbearing supervisors with unrealistic expectations. I get all that. I get that the system is frustrating and that working with people while you work with people is doubly difficult. I have been a front line staff. I have had to stifle myself in the face of ridiculous advice from supervisors who were just a signature away from madness. Truly, I get that.

I understand that we have to be alert to the needs of all who comprise the service system, from those who man the gates to those who sleep in the beds. We have to develop ways of kindness in our ways up and down the heirarchies and in and out of interactions. I understand that. I do. Truly I do.

But I do not accept that there is an excuse for abuse, a rationale for the misuse of power, an explanation for purposeful hurt.

Let's listen in to some apologies:

Sorry I beat you about the head, dear wife, but you see, my proposal was rejected by my supervisor and then presented later as his own work. You understand don't you?

Sorry, I sexually touched you, dear child, but you see my husband is often away and I was feeling negleted and wanting. You understand don't you?

or, as the comment suggested:

Sorry, I treated you with scorn and disrespect, dear client, it's just that my supervisor's a witch and my pay's a bitch.

None of these makes even the slightest bit of sense. Going home and excusing yourself for mistreating another, misusing your power, mishandling your touch, because of where you are in a heirarchy ... that's just dangerous. You are beginning to use the language of victimizers the world over - 'poor me' 'poor me hurt you' 'not poor me's fault' 'forgive poor me, you must, I do'.

Yes the system needs work.

But the system does not have hands - except yours.

The system does not have a voice - except yours.

The system does not have a touch - except yours.

Remember that.


Gone Fishing said...

One of my most interesting finds in an Accident Compensation file regarding me was a hand written note regarding a request (Complaint) I had made
something like

We need to answer this.

Not sure what, perhaps we should say what our future intentions are"

I now keep this in mind in all dealings with accident conpensation.

Who of course always have used "Provocation" on the part of the clients as defense of their actions.

Unfortunately the compensation corporation in NZ also owns and controls the dispute resolution service who apparently are only allowed to let a limited number of appeals suceed.

A system designed to prevent Lawyers getting involved.

I agree with your rply

Anonymous said...

Oh appologies to all I have inadvertently offended. My point was that these folks are unaware of what they are doing...and do not in fact realize how disrespectful and abusive they are being....and would be quite distressed if they truly understood what they are doing....In many cases they have lived and worked in systems where this ongoing abuse of interpersonal power and disrespect is so pervasive that it is part of the atmosphere and they really do not know how different it can be treated respectfully...I am NOT justifying abuse at all....and I am NOT blaming the victim AT ALL!!!!
I was thinking more of the mindset of 'my father spanked me and I turned out OK so it's OK for me to spank my kid" coming from someone who clearly thinks his life is just fine while those of us who more clearly see 'spanking' as a form of physical abuse look at this person and are appalled...esp. when it is someone with authority to hire/fire/make life miserable for those who disagree.....when I need this job to keep a roof over my head, I have to be careful what I say...and I can be mindful and aware of my own interactions with others but I can only lead by example and gentle words. I cannot respond to every instance of the the behavior that is allowed to trickle down from that leadership. I left a job at a large agency in my area and refuse to work for them due to their abuse of clients (and staff!).
I am apprehensive to post this, as I fear I may be misunderstood again. I apologize for any offense caused, none was intended. I imagine there are folks who will think me a clueless oaf with no insight and only self righteous justification, but I can only speak what I believe in my own words.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dave.
I am an adult. I am responsible for my behaviour. That's how it is. Whatever other people's behaviour may be, whatever life has thrown at me all day, or possibly, all my life - I am responsible for my behaviour.


Belinda said...

I agree that to justify wrong behaviour is a great pitfall that we, who are in social work, with our built in emphathy, must withstand. We need to remember that while some chose their jobs, others didn't choose to need the sevices they provide. This is why I wrote recently, and reread whenever I am tempted to forget:
"Let's make this the year of not turning a blind eye or a deaf ear when we hear or see something said or done that diminishes another human being in any way. Let's expect the same for every human being as we expect for ourselves and be tireless and brave in the battle. It isn't over because the doors closed yesterday (referring to the government run facilities)."

Anonymous said...

I'm a long-time lurker (and have never posted before), but just want to reassure Miss Mouse that I didn't see in her post what Dave attributed to her. I agree completely agree with Dave's response, but it doesn't seem to address the issue of the original post. I'm not writing this as a criticism to either of you - I'm a long-time fan of Dave - but to support a commenter who felt she was misunderstood.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Miss Mouse,

Thank you for coming back and for being brave enough to post again. I figured you for one of the good ones but I was worried about the 'justification' angle that I hear regarding abuse ALL THE TIME. So I wanted to use the opportuntity to respond. Thanks for being willing to continue the conversation.

Katja said...

I know that this entry was not actually about your comment policy, but because you have cleared up something I misunderstood, I wanted to follow up on your first paragraph.

I am always apprehensive when I first comment on someone's blog. I certainly don't expect the blog owner to respond to my every comment, but when I comment a couple of times and see no response, I tend to assume my comments are not wanted.

It might be a good idea to state your general policy of not responding to comments somewhere where readers will see it easily and realize that it's nothing personal.

Dave Hingsburger said...


Thanks for the suggestion. I'll look at the layout and see where to put it. It takes some explaining so I'll have to figure out how to say it and not sound rude. A daily blog is a lot of work. I try to make each entry something interesting, I don't just dash something off. I had hoped that by remaining distant from comments, readers would have a forum to talk freely amongst themselves about the issues raised.

Naomi J. said...

I am entirely in agreement with your response, Dave (whether or not the original commenter meant their comment in the way that I, certainly, interpret and respond to that attitude).

As a teacher, for five years, I heard a *lot* from other teachers about the mess that the system was in, and how they couldn't possibly offer the kids enough within that system. They seemed to have given up all hope - and then they inflicted that attitude on their students. I'm not saying I'm some kind of saint, but in contrast, I worked VERY hard not to develop that attitude, and most importantly not to pass it on to the students. I had to teach advanced-level classes of between twenty and thirty students, from within the UK's exam-focused education system that is not designed to allow everyone to achieve, under conditions (pay, hours, sometimes abusive students, etc) that most people wouldn't be keen on. But I reminded myself, every day before I started, why I wanted to become a teacher so badly, and why I loved it so much. I didn't always succeed at being the world's most patient teacher, but I did work very hard at treating everyone with respect and enabling as much achievement among my students as I could. Because, as a commenter has said above, I am the only person who is responsible for my own behaviour.

So when I encounter Department of Work and Pensions* staff who make me cry, refuse to make reasonable adjustments for me, and treat me like something much less than a person, I find this frustrating and unfair. I did nothing to them except ring a number I was given and ask for some information/a small amount of help/etc. I wish that a few more of them would take responsibility for their difficult behaviour - especially since the ones that are kind, helpful and respectful absolutely make my day*.

*our government department which is responsible for social security and many of the needs of disabled people

Andrea S. said...


Perhaps you could explain your comment policy in a stand alone post (or in a separate page)

Then in the blog layout, you could simply have a blurb that links to that post. Rather than explaining the whole policy, you could just say something like, "I love reading reader comments even when I don't respond. Wondering why you haven't seen me in the comments area? Follow this link ..." Or whatever

Katja said...

Dave - thanks for your response! I think you've explained your policy well in this entry, with the added expectation that commenters will discuss things amongst themselves.

Will Blogger allow you to add some boilerplate to the comments page? That would be a great place to explain your policy.

I appreciate the care you take with every post; there aren't many bloggers who post as frequently with such high quality, and (now that you've explained it) your policy makes perfect sense to em.

FAB said...

Miss Mouse, I understand where your comments are coming from and I do think there's something to it. In agencies with an extremely negative there tends to be more abuse of interpersonal power, it tends to be what people see as "smaller" things, like expecting compliance, removing choice etc...but these are the big things, individual rights which can lead to out and out abuse. No there is no excuse for abuse, I think most of know that, but there is abuse that is so subtle for the perpetrators perspective that they don't even see it, and we have systems that breed it. I get what you are saying and I get what Dave is saying. It's alwys worthwhile to look at the environment, it does have an impact, even though we ARE ALL RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR OWN BEHAVIOR.

JM said...

I agree with FAB. Abuse occurs on a continuem and agencies and local state govs have quite signgicant differences in opininion on what constitutes abuse. In my own midwestern US state "abuse" seemed to be defined as physical harm or signifcant, lengthy infliction of verbal or psychological abuse to a client. Anything short of that seemed to be met with a passing grade despite my own repeated attempts to make these abuse of a clients' rights known - to supervisors, case workers, family members, agency heads. This systemic disregard of client rights is why I left direct service work. It crushed me to have my clients so routinely treated like they had so little recourse to respect. I saw that respect means vastly different things to people.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thank you for this post, the comments of your readers and your responses.

There are work conditions and personal circumstances that make abuse more likely, we know that, and I think that this is what your commenter might have meant.

However, Dave, I have to agree with you, there is never an excuse for abuse, never anything that justifies abuse. Unconsicousness about what we are doing is not an excuse. How I am feeling or what has happened to me is not an excuse. What my boss told me to do is not an excuse. If we abuse someone we are responsible and we need to make ourselves accountable, even if others don't.

I have seen services for people with disabilities which had cultures of abuse. I have been drawn into those cultures - they can be very subtle - until I became aware of what was going on and then I found others who were doing things differently and did likewise. Yes, sometimes you have to take risks to do the right thing instead of abuse, you have to blow the whistle. But I would rather cope with the fall out from the whistle blowing than spend the rest of my life knowing I perpetrated abuse and did nothing about it.