Social workers are all about the compassion. We love to care, we love how much we love caring. One thing I’ve always struggled with that constantly placed me at odds of my classmates and peers is the somewhat cynical notion that we can’t care about everyone. Just the other week in a debate about sociopaths, I commented that as humans we are all a little sociopathic. And at some points we have to be able to cut ourselves off from others(please note sociopath here refers to emotional disregard /cutting off from people, not serial killer cutting up people). This is how you don’t take your work home with you. It is how you can sit the entire day with a client, truly be there with them while they share the most horrid things on the planet and not lose yourself.
It is not too far away from how we can see natural disasters killing untold numbers, and hear about genocides far away and without a blink, still worry about the price of gas, or whether we have time to stop for coffee without being late. It is not that we cannot empathize or feel bad for the lost lives, it is because it is outside our sphere of recognition. David Wong calls this the Monkeysphere, since scientists are able to predict the size of a group a particular monkey lived in depending on their brain structure. Those outside of the realm, unimportant. As humans we have a similar feature. We can care deeply about many people; friends, family, loved ones, pets…but as the sphere gets stretched farther our attachment wanes. Wong goes on to show different examples of how we can blame a faceless corporation or government for actions who don’t see us as human, while screwing over someone outside our door. We don’t purposefully want to hurt others, but we also do not see them as “people” within our sphere.
A great example he gives is how readily we are to insult or yell at a bad driver on the road for some mishap. Wong poses to us whether those insults would be hurled in a similar situation but closer proximity such as an elevator with friends? Would you yell or flip off your friend who hit the wrong button? But might you at the driver who didn’t use their blinker? At least it would be easier to because very simply, they just don’t matter.
So what can we do? Forget it all and screw everyone? Absolutely not. Love and feel for as many people as you can. Remember they’re human just as you are, it may make it easier to forgive slight trespasses. No matter how amazing you are at rationalization, and trust me, I’m pretty damn good, you can’t deny that we are all hypocrites at some point of our lives. we need this function in our life, we need to be able to forget about the unnamed, faceless strangers in order to continue onward. We have to prioritize our love because there is only so much of it that could be given truly. It is an evolutionary ability to help this group move forward and we are perpetuating society by doing so.
By: Courtney Kidd, LMSW
Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment
Good points. I think that some of us social workers equate this capacity with our professional skillset, and feel that we’re not adequately compensated as a result.So I personally believe I can love everyone, while at the same time, knowing that professionally boundaries are clearly defined, gets me through the day.
Excellent comments. What you were able to put into words will answer the question I get almost daily as an Oncology Social Worker. “How have you done this for over 20 years”.
Add Your Comment
An excellent representation of how those of us in the field for many, many years survive. This answers the question I am asked multiple times during my week, as an Oncology Social Worker for over 20 years. “How do you do this job”.
I don’t know how YOU define “love”, but I have a bible-based and psychology-based definition that might not exhaust you but still be humanly meaningful, one not based on emotion but on dedication,
Bible-based, as in “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased …”: Do NOT think modern love, think the dedicated relationship between (favorite) servant and (esteemed) master: Serve the other person (your client, your neighbor, your relative) solicitously. Do everything in your power to satisfy your client’s authentic needs. Emotional love is NOT required here, but your commitment to do what is right and what is needed by that person (ie, The Good Samaritan).
Psychological: Look for the good in the other person. Make every effort to see your client in as positive a light as possible (yet reality-based). Be their advocate. Be the one person who sticks up for them b/c you realize what their potential is. For example when we love someone we see what they do positively and support them in whatever way we can.