Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Queston Has Been Asked

Yesterday, yes Saturday, I did a training on abuse prevention for perhaps the youngest audience I have ever spoken to in my life. They didn't know it, because I never said it, but from my position of 'old man' it seemed like I was looking at the very future of services to people with disabilities. There wasn't a grey hair amongst them, nary a wrinkle to be seen, they all had 'evolution hands' which looked as if they could text messages and tie shoes while programming an I pod. Luckily, though, they still had an attention span and they seemed to be with me and listening from the moment I started.

This presentation which is a little different than the 'typical' presentation, involves an hour talking and then an hour chatting and answering questions. Again, I was lucky because after a nervous silence when it came time to answer questions, they began asking, well thought out and well formed questions. This was a bright group. I appreciated the opportunity to talk to them and the time was flying by - for me at least, I'm not so sure how they felt.

But then a young man sitting off to the side asked me what might have been the best question I've ever been asked in all my years of training and teaching. Now understand I don't say this lightly. I believe that every question is a good question. I understand the courage it takes  to speak up and ask something, I understand the concern that everyone has that their question is a 'stupid question'. Whenever I am in a presentation and asking a question of the presenter I have the nagging fear at the back of my mind that I'm asking a question to which everyone in the room already knows the answer. So, I get it. I appreciate all questions.

His question, however, was a question that indicated that maybe, just maybe, there is a glimmer of hope that the system that serves can become a system that's safe. For the last many years I've been working in that direction. I want parents to feel that their children are safe in our hands. I want people with disabilities to never have to fear our hands. I want us all, at the end our our careers, to be proud of what our hands have done. And I was never, really, sure, that that was a possibility. But his question gave me hope. I tried not to gush at him about the question because all the other questions had been good ones - and I didn't want people to think that it had been a competition. I did say, 'I've never been asked that question before.' I didn't say, 'I have been waiting for that question for years, without knowing it, that's the question I've been waiting for.'

He put his hand up and when I called on him, he asked (and I'm not going to get the wording quite right), "Given you've talked about the power we all have in our relationship to the people we care for, what do we each personally do to deal with that power to ensure that we never, ever, misuse it."

A stunner of a question, isn't it?

I'm not going into my answer here and now as it would take too long and I'm way prouder of him for the question than me for my answer. I do want to say WHY I thought this question, finally asked, is so important, why it's the 'big question'. In that question is an entire acceptance of the personal responsibility we each have for the safety of others. So many staff see themselves as victims of the system as working for horrible supervisors as without control in their work as pawns in the human service machinery. Some of that may be true, some of it may just be whining, some of it might be simply an example of how some human souls are attracted to personal victimhood like iron filings to magnets.

This question begins in a different place with a different set of assumptions. This question begins with an understanding of deep personal responsibility. This question begins with the person as separate from the system they work in, begins with the very relationship between one person and another, begins with the hierarchy and power that comes in that relationship. Abuse is almost always a crime of relationship - that single fact is almost never acknowledged in human services. People talk about the responsibility of systems, rarely the responsibility of one individual to another.

I left that training feeling something new in my heart. A kind of lightness and, could it be, faith that maybe there is a new awareness beginning, after all THE QUESTION had been asked. Minds are now ready for a new concept, a new way of thinking about what we do. Tomorrow is the International Day of Mourning and Memory where I hope we remember lives lost, lives lived unlived. And yet today I'm feeling hope for a future where people will be in the hands of people who use their hands carefully and wisely and with full responsibility.

On some of my posts, I get some emails from people, who don't wish to leave a comment, that tells me that sometimes I write things and see things as significant that maybe aren't. The post I wrote about the woman with Down Syndrome signing her name received the most 'Dave, you've lost it' emails that I've recieved in some time. I suspect this one might too. And I think that's because I'm an imperfect writer who sometimes can't put into words what I'm really feeling. Sometimes I know, deeply, the meaning I want to get across but my words simply can't convey it. All I can say, in my own defense, is that yesterday, a few words were strung together to form a question that gave me a deep sense of hope in the future, and maybe that's all I need you to understand here today.


Lotte said...

As a student nurse on first placement that is the question that I want to be told the answer to!
But it is also good to hear that it IS a valid question and not one which everyone else would look at me askance for asking!

John R. said...

Thanks for this hopeful entry. This is the wave of the future if we are lucky. The "whipper-snappers" who can Tweet, Facebook, text and shop for socks all at the same moment...these folks are the hope. I think that given better understanding of as you put it, "....about the responsibility of systems, rarely the responsibility of one individual to another".....if we as trainers, educators, mentors and friends can help serve this message an a silver platter (or text it on a silver I- Phone), there is a glimmer of hope for disability services and supports that are delivered by this new and future generations. I am hopeful today!

Ruti said...

I read your blog looking for answers to that question.

FibroFacialGal said...

It's too bad that you receive emails from those thinking you may be reading too much into things. I disagree.

I think you are sensitive and finely tuned to situations and their significance because it's your gift. This example is certainly a big one with deep implications, but previous posts like the "signing her name" are no less relevant and important.

Your voice is very much needed. I feel that you humanize what often has been dehumanized: disability and the many factors that come into play.

Keep up the good fight, Dave. And remember: just because others don't agree with or can't see your point of view, it doesn't make it wrong or less valid. Speak up.


Flemisa said...

Thanks for the glimmer of hope.
Thanks for acknowledging how much effort went into a person learning to sign their name.
Thanks for bringing a light to the smallest of concerns.
Even when you are not agreed with, maybe, hopefully, you have started someone thinking about something they hadn't registered before.

Jan said...

Thank you Dave for sharing your glimmer of hope. We all need to believe that the next generation will be better. I too have worked with students at the college here and have felt that there are some insightful caring individuals that are entering disability services. Their youth and enthusiasm is wonderful and when that is coupled with caring and personal responsibility that can oly be a plus for Human Services. .

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thank you for sharing this glimmer of hope with us. I agree that it is a glimmer of hope. For someone so young to realize 1) the huge power imbalance and 2) they are personally responsible for how they use their power and 3)there might be strategies that can help - wow! that is huge!

One of the road blocks I run into on a regular basis while trying to get students to these realizations is that they think because they are a good person they won't abuse their power. And mostly they are right about the fact that they are good people. But they are dead wrong about the fact that good people do not abuse power. Its a tough battle - good to know you are making headway.

Now what I really want to hear about is your answer.


rickismom said...

I come from your generation, Dave. I remember in Nursing school touring the Hell-house that was the Illinois mental retardation hospital. I'll bet that ANYONE writing that you "lost it" NEVER SAW what you have borne witness to....

Anonymous said...

A glimmer.
Let it shine shine shine, let it SHINE!
'what do we each personally do to deal with that power to ensure that we never, ever, misuse it?'
So you didn’t tell us the answer in your blog. But there’s an answer I have learned from you and your writing, and it’s kindness.
It’s wonderful that the question is asked. I think it’s asked bcos Dave you, your work, makes the space, the necessity, the urgency that ask us never to misuse power and tell us that it starts here.
I also hear from you a very simple and very powerful answer in many complex ways.

Maggie said...

I used to be 'staff' for a young woman who could only block-print her name, even though she had a checking account. She said whenever she tried to learn to write in cursive one of two things would happen:

Either the teacher would say it would be too hard for her and she shouldn't bother ...

or some normie would make fun of her for not knowing how already.

I am just thrilled to know you saw someone signing her name in fluent script!

Ellen said...

First of all, I'm happy to hear about your hope for the future as I have to children that are "in the system".

Secondly, I thought your post about the young woman with Down Syndrome signing her name was one of your most moving. I should have posted then what I thought ... the parents who fought to bring their daughter to that point have paved the way for me. I have a six year old with Down Syndrome and live in a place where a world of services are available because of the parents who fought.

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

On Saturday morning, I wrote a blog post about my own concerns about supporting people - namely, will I have the courage, find the words, withstand the urge to lapse into complacency/muck it all up.

I was blessed - so blessed - to receive a response that was both realistic and gentle. And it offered me hope and resolve and makes me all the more determined to remember that it will be my PRIVILEGE to serve another.

I felt awful, asking, admitting that I struggle ALREADY with the knowledge that in supporting someone, I wield enormous power to either enrich or make harder their life/lives. Already, I question my own courage, to stand by and FOR him/her/them. How incredible to come here, find some of my own thoughts, offered up.

I too, am eager to read your thoughts on the matter.

Anonymous said...

I get the "hope", I see the "glimmer", I understand the importance of the question, the point of the post - the weight of the message.
What I don't get is why belittle, and you really did belittle, the issues of the very people whom you hope to see the change in. Commenting "So many staff see themselves as victims of the system as working for horrible supervisors as without control in their work as pawns in the human service machinery. Some of that may be true, some of it may just be whining, some of it might be simply an example of how some human souls are attracted to personal victim hood like iron filings to magnets." OUCH, HOLEY CRAP Dave!!!
I have been in this field for over 30 years, bowed under by the weight of the acceptance of MY responsibility, and I NEVER forget the huge personal challenge of the big three I strive toward. CARE, Respect and dignity. I have done this for over 30 years and see the things you speak of; ask the questions just like that young man, and pray for the answer.... but waiting for that answer, also see that we, as staff, are so undervalued that turnover is rampant; low pay, no benefits, little training, no respect given. “Contracted” by the companies we work for, not even claimed as their workers - on the cheap, even though we do the same work as the degreed people - same paperwork, same services,even longer hours. Just for much poorer pay and no benefits. You must remember that while we do this - yes to serve, we also do it for a living. I am there to celebrate and even teach the signature….. And I should be allowed a voice, certainly YOU should understand how important being given a voice is - and not mocked as “whining”. I do not want to take away from your message, or its celebration, I pray that everyone “gets” that answer soon - but it is that very question, given voice by a young STAFFER that will make the change. Please don’t take OUR voice away Dave, or mock us in our struggle.