At work today, a couple of colleagues were talking about the families that we work with, specifically the poverty. One shared a story about a job he had, working with the wealthy, and how challenging that was. He had to be someone else to relate. He had to be phony. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being wealthy…said in a Seinfeld voice).
Another colleague shared that she would have been challenged by a job working with the wealthy, constantly comparing her life to theirs. Thinking, “I wish I had this or that.”
She said that every day working with our families, she is humbled. And grateful for what she has been given. There was beauty in these words. This wasn’t about comparison or thinking she is “better than” our families. She is simply grateful.
These comments were timely as this morning before work, I read this beautiful blog post about Urban American Poverty by Shannan Martin. The words were:
“There's a fundamental belief that this is it. It won't ever get better, it can't.
So don't bother thinking it might and don't be stupid enough to waste your time trying.”
She captured in a few sentences an observation that I have often struggled to describe as a professional. This observation about poverty that sucks the hope right out of you. This is it. Life doesn’t get better than this.
When you see this type of poverty firsthand, when you see what it does to the human spirit, it can change you. And not just poverty. Violence, abuse, etc, etc, the list could go on and on.
I went to a conference a few months ago, and one of the speakers discussed “shadow sides” to the work that we do. It’s a nice phrase for how this work can change you as a human being.
There are benefits too. The biggest is changing the world for the better. Hey, that’s why my 17 year old self chose social work. I wanted to “help people.” I’m serious. I was (and am) really that simplistic.
Another benefit is this overwhelming gratitude that I feel at the end of a challenging day. On my way home today, I thought about how grateful I was. I was going home to a house. I didn’t have to worry about how many more nights I could afford to live there. I was going home to my healthy children and loving husband. I didn’t have to worry about violence or poverty. I was going home with hope in my heart for the future. I am not resigned to a future of despair.
Again, this isn’t about comparison. This isn’t about saying my life is better than someone else’s.
This is about gratitude. This is about appreciating those gifts in my life. Maybe seeing the absence of those gifts in others’ lives makes me appreciate mine even more.
This post is part of my series:
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