Disturbing violence against children. And adults and systems that commit the far bigger crime of momentary concern before falling into patterns of apathy and indifference. My work often takes me into these unnerving and depressing realities. We are taught, as social workers, to recognise the boundaries of our engagement. And then there is qualitative research which tells us that objectivity is a myth. Who we are influences what we see and what we do about it. I honestly think I made my life more difficult since I became aware of the concept of reflexivity! It is difficult to negotiate this complex labyrinth of principles and codes, of how we reveal ourselves or not within work environments that are deeply challenging. You see human behaviours that don’t deserve to be called human. Even as one struggles to acknowledge that there are possibly painful back stories, it remains soul crushing.
So, what has helped me continue?
I started choosing my assignments a little more carefully. I decided to be associated with work where I learn something and where I can make a specific contribution with whatever skills and abilities I have. I am not going to change the world (I can’t even broker peace within my extended family!!!). But I want to put whatever I have to the best use that I can. And this can be an multiple levels – consolidating insights through process documentation work that can shape future initiatives or at the least provide some easily do-able suggestions, participating in research that highlights important issues and strategies that work or don’t, helping organisations become more reflective in their child protection work through better systems of monitoring and documentation and consolidating technical/legal/experiential learnings into accessible guidelines/manuals for greater systemic use.
Being open to work experiences and people that reaffirm faith in humanity has helped in a big way too. There are kindred spirits out there. Finding these fellow travellers has meant a lot to me. And the interest and excitement of those who are taking their early steps on this journey has also been reassuring. There are islands of good intent and positive actions everywhere – within communities and systems. We need to strengthen and amplify these and help others learn from those experiences.
And the resilience of children. That has been an eye opener. They may choose means and strategies that I don’t understand. But it does not take away from their courage to live through difficult circumstances. After all, at the end of the day, I come back to my comfortable home while they battle with what they have.
Also, I am not sure if I am ever going to attain that elusive work-life balance. I have been pushed into making some adjustments because of health issues (a recurring back pain – a congenital gift). But more than that, I have realised the importance of emotional self care. We cannot do what we do if we do not recognise what makes and unmakes us and how that seeps into our work. We need rest for our physical and emotional selves.
The other parts of our lives can help nourish our work life. I return to poetry and books and music and friends and films. And family. Our much neglected families who put up with so much even when they don’t understand! We are a sum of all of this. It helps.