Monday, January 5, 2009

digging deeper - treating people as people

I'm not entirely sure why, but this photo evokes really powerful emotions in me. Tonight was my night off, and I spent some time working on a project for church. I was looking for photos which so a variety of different people from a variety of different walks of life and cultures. Seeing all the people reminded me that one of my intentions for the year was to see people as people and that got me thinking about my job.

It's all fine and well for me to say I want to remember that people are people, but I realized, when thinking about things, is that part of the way I cope with my job is to forget that, it makes things easier. Maybe that's good though, and maybe that's bad.

For example, when I have someone screaming and calling me unspeakable things (or at least things I won't publish here) it is much easier to think of them as "that intoxicated person" rather then give them a name. In fact, I generally refer to them as their cell number (interestingly enough though, i tend not to do that with clients I know well). Then there's example two, again, working the drunk tank. A girl sobbing, crying, begging me to help her, telling me of her horrible life, about the abusive relationship which wound her up here. So much easier to give quick reassurances and move on. Experience and practical reasoning has taught me that there's no use arguing or doing interventions with intoxicated people. In these situations, it's fairly easy to justify, whether that's good or not, I'm not sure.

Then though are the turn aways. It's really, really hard, to look someone in the eye, call them by name, and tell them they can't come inside the warm shelter when it's -30 outside. Exposed skin can freeze in less then 10 minutes, and what do I say? "I'm sorry sir, we're full, you have to get here early, we're usually full by 9PM". "I'm sorry, all the shelter beds in the city are full, you'll have to figure this out for yourself". Those, and other things, but generally those. Nothing can prepare you for that, and it's so much easier for them to remain Jane and John Doe then to dig deeper and ask their names, and how they wound up at your door that night. For some, especially the 2:45 crowd, it's simply that the bars don't close till 2:30, but for others, there are most deeper issues and we're their last hope.

So what I need to work on finding, as I've said many times before, is balance. A little pain keeps us moving, it's what keeps us fighting for change. Making things too black and white, and blocking out the suffering of people hardens us, and getting harden to far makes us, well, hard. I don't want to be like that. I also don't want to be the girl who runs to the bathroom and cries after each turn away (for the record, we don't have one, I just don't want to become one).

something to ponder as I fall asleep, what is it that dehumanizes people, is it our actions or our attidudes, must it be one, the other, or both?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it is both our actions and attitudes that can dehumanize people. I see it all the time working in a hospital. That is another place where people can get really dehumanized. People are described by their diagnosis or whatever procedure they're having. It's hard not to follow suit and sometimes I can definitely see why it happens...facing people who are sick and in fully see them as a human being in pain and suffering would be very difficult for a doctor. Not saying that this is how all doctors treat their patients, but I can see why it happens.