Becoming a service user is an awakening experience for a service provider! At least it has been for me. This morning while waiting for the bus, I noticed that when it drove into the driveway, I looked carefully to see if I could see who was driving. It didn't take long for me to have a list of favourites, those I looked forward to riding with. This is a more diverse list than you might think. Some are chatty, some are not; some are morning people, some are not; some drive smoothly, some do not. My favourites, then, are similar only in the way they present themselves to me and the way they interact with me.
Similarly, when I get a driver I don't know or have never had before, I begin immediately assessing them. I assess them for a couple of things ... mood and manner ... predictors of how they may interact with me. And, man, do I want to be able to predict! There are things I prefer, routes that I'd rather not take, hints about the lane way beside my office ... things which I'd like to point out or ask for or inform about. But I've found that my input is welcomed only with those who have an interest in me as something more than cargo.
So this morning, getting on the bus, I did a quick check. Mood? Manner? And as I did so I began to think about all the people in service, all the children waking up to parents ... everyone who is dependant, at least in part, on the mood and the manner of someone in their lives. Do people realize that there are those who assess them, those who are trying to determine if their day will go well or their day could go pear shaped at any moment.
Hmmm ... maybe those of us who have support providing or care giving responsibilities need to be the first to check our mood and our manner, maybe we need to realize that, in small ways, every day, we are being checked out - assessed. Our character and our dangerousness are being calculated to determine risk.
Because the one thing I have learned as a service recipient - in relationship with any service provider, of any type ... there is always risk.
Thanks for this reminder, Dave.
So true. The words, "At the mercy of.." come to mind.
yes, feelings are contagious, and the power differential inherent in all care provider/care recipient relationships is expressed differently when the person with more power is mad/sad/scared. Usually the more dependent person has less power, but not always.....
thanks for reminding me to watch my words and my body language.
hi Dave....your comments in this blog remind me of my 20 years working with people with mental and physical disabilities in a group home setting in B.C....particularly the one guy i worked with mostly, in the Nelson area....
when you write of "assessing" the "care providers", as you get on the bus, i was flashed back to my time with my client, who was acutely aware (as i'm sure all people receiving care are aware) of his entire dependence upon the good will of others, particularly the workers....if they were grumpy, or lazy, or uninterested in what HE wanted to do, his day would be considerably different from a day spent with someone who actually cares for him, looking out for his wants and needs...
and unfortunately, my client was accustomed to not being served well...in fact i got the impression this was the NORMAL for him...that people did not serve him as well as they should....
that they may have been afraid of him was not a good enough excuse, really.
i also heard your story the other day on the CBC radio, on one of their programs, where you talked about your perceptions of how people behave around you due to your size. it was a very moving and telling story... thanks so much for it....it reminded me of a lecture i went to back in the 90's that you gave here in Nelson, i believe it was....or Castlegar, on people with disabilities and their legitimate sexual feelings and their right to express those feelings in positive and healthy ways...i still remember that lecture because it was so informative, and yet obvious, and yet so compassionate and caring for our client population.
i was surprised and saddened to hear you are now having to use a wheelchair, and are now a part of the community of people with disabilities....i am getting there myself, what with the type 2 diabetes i now have....
my size too, has been the subject of much "well-intentioned" advice, as well as the butt of poorly informed humour....
anyways, thanks for telling your story on the CBC, and for this lovely article on what it's like to be on the receiving end of the care spectrum.
I try to think, too, of the experience of the day the person serving me - waitress, clerk, banker, radiology tech - is having.
It doesn't always help - you can be as cheerful and friendly as you like with some people to no avail - but it's good for ME. To remember we're all God's children - or simply that we're all here together.
That said, in the cases I'm talking about, mostly the power dynamic is in my favor. I try not to abuse it, but I know it's there.
In some cases - too many - the power dynamic is in favor of the 'caregiver.' Which is made worse by caregivers not being given respect and adequate pay. These are often not desirable jobs, and they don't always attract people with enough empathy.
A teacher isn't exactly the same as the kind of service provider you're talking about. But I've found the same concepts to prove true, about checking my own mood and manner in the classroom. There are some days when the kids (teenagers) seem so great, and other days they seem collectively terrible. But the biggest determiner seems to be how I start my own day! The mood I start out with colors how I view their behavior all day, and it comes across in my own behavior, which they react to. I became aware of it all over again one week this year, when I'd been sick and practically lost my voice. I ended up teaching for three straight days basically without speaking. (An accomplishment I'm very proud of!) When it was absolutely necessary to speak, I could manage very hushed tones. The funny thing is, while I was being super quiet, the kids naturally followed my lead! Everybody spoke softly, and my classes were peaceful all day! After all the times I'd complained about loud classes before, I'd never considered that my volume was the problem...
Volume, of course, is a small issue. But I've also caught myself on bad days, responding to a student's call with annoyance in my tone or face. I feel terrible when they apologize for asking a question, or say "never mind." That's when I usually manage to catch myself, apologize to the student for taking out completely unrelated stress on them, assure them that it's ALWAYS ok to ask questions, and give them my undivided attention.
It's so easy to slip sometimes, when people are your job, and start treating people like tasks to be dealt with. Even when you very sincerely love and respect them! There are still moments when my head's not in the game. Fortunately, I'm usually able to quickly clear my vision and see the person in front of me, and how my mood/manner is affecting them. Fortunately, I'm not too proud to apologize.
"i was surprised and saddened to hear you are now having to use a wheelchair, and are now a part of the community of people with disabilities"
Isnt this the kind of attitude Dave was talking about in his last post? Its not sad that hes having to use a wheelchair,its ace that that enabling equipment exists,and hes not less than he was before coz hes become a service user.Being disabled is just a different state of being,its not a tragedy.
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