Taking a moment aside from MLK’s birthday and the Presidential inauguration I want to bring forward a much discussed topic: Radical Social Work. My dislike for the term stems from the negative connotation I have against it. That doesn’t mean I’m right. Matt, very thoroughly depicted what radical social work means, the textbook definitions, and the historical context of which our entire profession subscribes to. When thinking upon the issue myself, a memory stirred from Les Miserables. A lot of people hate on Javert, the police inspector who seems to have no better hobby than prevent our lead protagonist, and his lovely ward from living a charmed life. He just so happens to be one of my favorite characters in literature. Growing up with Les Mis, I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard the songs, seen the plays, and watched the movie. It is one of those stories that will mold and give forth something different each time you view it.
My understanding of the messages have grown as I have grown, as the play as grown in my mind. Javert is the “bad guy” in the play, and yet, a “textbook” good man. His limitation is that his own view of the world is so cut into black and white, that he cannot accept there can be goodness outside the accepted law. Valjean emphasizes this multiple times, a fact that stood out in the most recent film adaptation. Valjean reiterates the phrase “you’ve done your duty, nothing more,” in what seems a compliment to Javert, is a blatant insult otherwise. Much like Marc Antony’s funeral speech against Brutus to the Romans where he turns “noble” into the darkest of slurs, Valjean turns “duty” into a slap. Going further than duty calls for is how I think radical social workers must be. It is going beyond the norm in order to do what is right and moral, even if it does not seem to abide by the strictures of the day. While far from a cry to become lawless, I think that is the sentiment missing from the title radical social work. What we’re looking for is an ability to go above and beyond what is expected of us, what is asked of us, in order for us not just to do our duty but for us to change the world.
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