Is Pain and Suffering “Just a Part of Life”?

Ok…the first question that is really going tickle the deepest neurons we possess. This one, really doesn’t have just one answer, let alone a “right” answer. I will admit this is truly all about how one perceives the concepts within the question, as well as the point of such a question.

It would be so easy to just say the following, and then peace out:

“Of course! We have all lived, thus all experienced suffering and pain; ergo, it must be a part of life!”

Shout out to my boy Descartes for the inspiration and logical fallacy! RIP, Bro!

I digress…

This is the issue with philosophical questions. They possess answers that are both right and wrong…it is all dependent upon the context in which you apply the question.

Ask this question to the guy who just won the lottery and is spending like crazy. At that particular point in time, in that particular context, the answer would be and emphatic “No!” Fast forward down the road when that guy maybe invests poorly and goes broke, loses everything, and is ostracized by those who warned him, then the answer quickly shifts to “Heck, yes!”

See what I mean? The context derives the right or wrongness of the answer.

If we were to examine Biblical perspective, the answer would also be Yes and No. Originally, pain and suffering, and all other negative emotions, were not supposed to be a part of life! However, without going into a Genesis history lesson, we humans kinda screwed the pooch on that one. Thus, enter sin, and accordingly, enter the negative emotional world.

But let’s look at the interesting flip-side of this question.

Newton’s third law of motion tells us that for every action, there is an equal and/or opposite reaction. While this applies to force, mass, and objects, we can philosophically apply it to life. In fact, we have been doing it for centuries. The idea that there is good to balance the evil. Christianity calls this God vs. Satan (Heaven vs. Hell), Hinduism says it’s Karma, and plenty of other terminologies exist. The bottom line is the same…for a negative, there is a positive.

Now, apply this thinking, and depth of understanding, to pain and suffering and all other emotions!

But, let’s add another thought to the mix…right out of good ol’ Psychology.

For years, Psychologists, Social Workers, Sociologists, and Doctors have been trying to understand the brain and mind and all they do. One of the biggest pickles, is the ideas of dreams and the imagination. What are they? What’s their purposes? Are they truly unique? Again, you can dig deeper into the research that leads to these conclusions, but here is the main idea:

Knowing how the neural links are designed in our brain, paired with how memory functions, learning is established, and the application of said things, we know that the mind and brain cannot create completely new and never known things.

Let me clarify. That does not mean imagination and creativity do not exist as we have seen them. What it means is that the brain and mind create things BASED upon already encoded information. Whether that information was encoded as a quick glance of someone’s face that we will never physically see again, or as a series of repetitions of chemical chains in a lecture for an exam and a future pharmaceutical career. Ideas are creative only in that they are an amalgamation of previously established information. It still is a brilliant and amazing process, but it also shows our dependence upon others and things outside of ourselves, for the advancement of our kind and civilizations.

NOW we apply it all.

To begin to answer this question, I posit other questions based upon what we know now, given the aforementioned “lessons”:

If we did not know the negative feelings, could we actually acknowledge the positive feelings as their own entities?

  • That is, without pain, could we know healing? Could we know happiness without sorrow? What about peace without chaos?

Conversely, could we know these negative feelings exist without their positive counterparts?

Throwing back to the Biblical sense, I believe that we could acknowledge the positives without the negatives at one time, because at that time we had no sin and a being (God) existed outside of and greater than our comprehension, who gave us the perspective. But for those who don’t subscribe to the theological perspective, I leave us all with these thoughts….

I think we all can agree that at some point IN life, pain and suffering is inevitable. Anecdotal and circumstantial evidences show this to be true. But the bigger question within the question should be as such:

Should pain and suffering be a CONSTANT part of life?

Can we decide to LEARN where it comes from and its positive counterparts, and CHOOSE to be better, happier, joyous, and peaceful?

There is the answer.

Pain and suffering are only there if you choose to acknowledge them as part of your life.

So, will you succumb to their inevitability?

Or, will you rise above them and transcend the joys that come when you defeat them in the pits?

The choice is yours…it is all of ours….but a choice that you are not alone in.

Choose wisely.

As always, stay Blessed!

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What’s Wrong with “Kids” These Days?

What is it like being in your mid-to-late 20s in 2015? Well, to say the least, it’s awkward…and sad..and sometimes painful. How so? Because those of us fitting that description are “stuck in the middle”. We are the weird-third-cousin-like section of the Millennials. Born at a time that caused us to develop our own modern worldview and understandings of shifting cultures and society, BUT still holding to the strength and wisdom of the traditions, values, and societies that existed before us. Why is it awkward? Simply put, because even we look at the rest of the age group (sub about 23 years of age) within this generation and consider them “kids”. And, there are a few reasons for this.

It starts with the piece of understanding the wisdom within what is now called the “good ol days” by some, and “the ignorant past” by others (mostly younger Millennials and the liberal/progressive movement). Being born in the late 80s allowed us older ones to understand the good that was values, family, financial wisdom, policies that were for the greater good. And you know what? It worked! This allowed us to GROW UP in the 90s, one of the best decades in the history of our nation and civilization. We saw the dollar being strong. People caring for one another and not caring about stupid personal issues and “rights”. Heck, in elementary school at that time, the weirder you looked, the cooler you were! One could wear an upside down, backwards visor, with a neon shirt and cut off jean shorts with sandals and they were “stylish” and “hip”. Why? Because they CLEARLY did not care what others thought of their looks! They didn’t have to be “put together” for status. Now, I am speaking in sweeping generalities here, but it is backed up with experiences from those like me…older Millennials.

I will now begin to differentiate the specifics of the paradigm shift within this generation, and thus, society. To start, us older Millennials will be referred to as “adults” and the rest as “kids”…because that is how it looks to us. But there is also factors deeper than that, that cause even a rift within us adults…especially some of the civil rights issues. However, there are explanations for that, and are highlighted here soon.

When us adults were kids, there were expectations placed on us from our elders and our society, most of these expectations were good for us in the long run, even if on the surface they were difficult, unfair, and not happy. As a kid, us adults knew that if we were not good test takers, we had to learn to get better, and after exhausting EVERY option, then and only then, would necessary changes be made and accommodations put in place to help. Now? Just have a potential learning disability (or just enough whining from parents to the schools) and children are given extra time, labeled special needs and having lower standards, etc. Pretty ridiculous. Or, how about behavior issues? If a we, as kids, were acting out in schools, our parents were brought in and a serious discussion about issues and behavior modification in the home were brought up, as a collaborative measure to help the child maintain behaviors conducive to success and the learning environment. Today? Bring up that context to parents and all of a sudden somebody is offended and feels it’s the “school’s fault” because their kid “never does XYZ at home”.

Now, I have used a couple of school examples, and I can go on with hundreds more from different arenas, but I have reached my first point. There is almost NO personal responsibility among the kids of today. When something they don’t like happens, somebody or something is to blame. In student debt up to their eyeballs? It’s the government’s fault for making education too expensive and not paying enough when they get jobs. Thug gets arrested for BREAKING THE LAW? Or worse killed? It’s the system and oppression from almost 200 years ago to blame.

Seriously, when are these kids going to get it…YOUR CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES!

Which brings me to my next point: work ethic.

There is a serious issue of entitlement going on right now. Recently, Saturday Night Live did a skit highlighting this nearly perfectly, but still doesn’t bring the magnitude of the issue to the table. It definitely highlights the entitlement of getting something just because one wants it, but doesn’t want to work for it. As well as the entitlement to do what they want and then when hit with truth, fact, or consequence, considers it an “attack” on them thus becoming ignorant (more on that later). This is the precise attitude that is driving the movement of the $15 fast food kids. Just because other people are making decent livings and able to afford things in their jobs, the kids should be able to do the same, purely because they’re working. I mean, let’s completely forget that most people making a living have worked hard, gone to school, started a business, or some other means of WORKING HARD and applying their skills and passions on a higher level.

Entitlement in and of itself is being used in the wrong way even. For someone to be entitled, the whole premise of the word is that something was acknowledged, found to hold additional value beyond that of the assumed normal. So what kids today are saying is that because they exist, they deserve everything everyone else has because they are in only a similar position and purely exist. Because others have nice things and can be happy, they should too…but without the same journey it took to get there. I believe a better way of talking about this issue would be calling it “active envy”. And to be honest…if I remember…the Bible calls that….hmmmm…oh!…COVETING!

So where did these kids go wrong and why are us adults doing just fine? It starts in the realm of feelings and offense.

Everybody, it seems, is offended by everything nowadays. Seriously, seemingly nobody can express a thought (no matter how truthful it is) without somebody feeling bad, being offended, or thinking they’re oppressed. And Heaven forbid that we disagree on something, the person “doing the hurting” is now ignorant and/or a bigot. Kids these days are way too sensitive about their feelings and would rather be comfortable than challenged and rise to heights of new success. There’s your entitlement right there.

It takes hard work, dedication, and constantly being challenged if one wants success. And it seems that kids these days are not getting it. If they want to reach new heights, how are they going to get there if they expect handouts? Those only keep you stagnant, content. To go higher, one must push themselves. Do Olympic athletes break the national records and then just say “that’s good enough” and expect a gold medal in the world? I hope not…because they’d be in for a rude awakening. The point is that one must risk what they have (within reason) and step up and be challenged to achieve the next level of greatness! If they fail to do so, they will forever be condemned to a life of stagnation and annoying whining and complaining.

The issues, though, do not start in society…they start at birth and, inevitably, in the home. With ever-increasing divorce rates and fatherless homes, coupled by society refusing to acknowledge years of research, and centuries of human experience, that say the nuclear family is essential and the best, it is no wonder that we as a world and nation are in the mess that we’re in. Consistent research shows that these contributing factors show some of the highest correlations with mental health problems, behavioral issues, violence (shootings, fights, etc.), and crime among kids and families. But we ignore these things all because leaning towards “inclusion” and changing the definition of families, and building self-esteem take precedence over fact and logic.

We have taken major problems and approached them with nauseating complexity for the sake of an easy and comfortable existence, instead of seeing the simple answers, all because those answers take hard work and dedication, as well as conviction.

Kids these days have become wussified…they no longer know how to think for themselves. Why? Because if they did, then the answers they need to find and execute would take work, hard work…so they like the easy road which is significantly more complicated, but it feels good and no body will challenge them…hopefully.

Here is an interesting thought:

A lot of kids these days claim that the cultural movements are founded on science and fact. Even though the rational of us know quite the contrary. But for argument’s sake, let’s humor the children. If they believe in true science, then they have already violated the fundamentals of its method by acting and thinking the way they do. The scientific method demands that theories and ideas and concepts be tested and conclusions drawn from the data. If we go back to elementary (and now middle) school, we remember the idea of a hypothesis. Expand that into more adult thinking, we understand that when we have a hypothesis, we actually test what’s called the NULL hypothesis…this acts as the “experiment” group and the hypothesis (the idea or concept) as the “control” group. And we surely remember the “if” “then” formula for this?

Where does this come from? Ah…glad you asked! Good ol’ Occam’s Razor. The philosophical argument that states in most, if not all, cases, the simplest and most rational/logical answer is the most accurate and effective. The argument upon which the whole method of science is built upon. The answers that are given are not easy, and some quite difficult, but they are simple, not complex, and generally hold the most weight and efficacy.

Kids these days don’t understand that just because you can question things, doesn’t mean you always have to. Because doing this will only make the problems infinitely worse and more complex…even thought this creates ease and lots of good feels. But a fruitful life is not easy, and it sure as heck is not always pleasant.

So….us adults need to continue to fight with fact, conviction, heart, and truth…all so that the kids can see the light and rise to the challenges.

Stay Blessed you all!

Why Is It So Hard to Just Move On?

Here you go, slap-you-in-da-face fact: someday at some point and somewhere we are ALL going to suffer loss. I know, total epiphany right?!

It’s jut the truth of life, death is inevitable. However, loss doesn’t always have to be synonymous with death, per say. Loss comes in many forms. We could call it a metaphorical death at all points, though. Loss comes through material things, friends due to disagreements, parts of our souls when guilt overwhelms us, and many other ways that I don’t have time to mention.

Regardless of what we lose, we all generally (at some point) desire to “just move on”. That is a heavy goal and a burden. And, in the midst of the loss, one of the WORST things you can say to another. This, I would hope, is common sense. But, there is an issue with this goal. Primarily? It devalues the human experience and makes us worse off.

The mind and brain are fickle things really…full of simultaneous complexity and simplicity. Memory is an essential part of our growth and success as a species and a community. We know that memory and emotions are both tied to and function in the same area of the brain: the limbic system. Hence why the sayings are “emotions are the strongest tie to memory”…along with scent that is.

When we suffer loss of any kind, and it impacts us, the limbic system is firing on all cylinders. There is a flood of emotional neurotransmitters coursing through our cerebellum and our bodies. And, a memory is created. This provides hurdle #1 of “just moving on”.

A memory has just been etched into our limbic system, forever to remain. So, is it inaccessible? Not at all. Psychology will help you understand that there are two ways memory is retrieved:

  1. Recall
  2. Recognition

Recognition memory is the easiest retrieval method. It is, in layman’s terms, triggered memory. It is the memory used when taking a multiple choice test. The answers listed can be triggered clues to help bring a memory of information from our subconscious to the cognitive front (conscious mind); allowing us to choose the most accurate answer.

Recall memory may or may not have inherent triggers, but ultimately, it takes the effort to actually PULL the memory forward. Within the mind we must instantly and sequentially create our own triggers to recall the memory. This is what is used if someone were to ask you: “Hey, on Halloween of 2008, what were you up to?” Unless you had a significant event happen on that date of that year that created a neurological chain of triggers, you will have to actually make an EFFORT to think back and pull that day up and all the events of said day.

So, what does this have to do with “just moving on”?

Simply put, if you want to even come close to moving on, you have to actively TRY and pull the memory up, and PROCESS through everything it entails with your conscious self. And THEN, you have to manipulate the memory into a new neural pathway apart from the emotions it evokes and assimilate it with something more pleasant and strong; inevitably leaving the memory to wash away and become overpowered by the more pleasant thing. Honestly, with some therapy and help from people like me, it can be done. But this begs a bigger question: Why would we want this for ourselves?

Most will answer along these lines:

“I don’t want to remember.”

“If I don’t ‘get over it’ I will be in pain forever…I don’t want the pain.”

“I want my life to be back to normal.”

Etc.

Etc.

Etc.

I get it, and honestly these are all valid points and completely understandable. But here is the truth…when anything in life happens, change, your life ceases to be “normal”. In fact, normal is nothing more that applied statistical status quos…seriously. With every change, your life becomes a new “normal”. And, I get the pain aspect…loss hurts…it hurts real bad. But, if you are a human being, with a human mind, and any semblance of a human soul, you are devaluing who you are and what you will become if you want to “just move on” and assimilate the loss to something more happy.

If you are these things, then you understand the idea behind “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” If we begin to boil our lives down to the individual memories and experiences of our past, and attempt to constantly manipulate them for comfort…we completely ignore the strength of our present and the hope of our futures. That is the whole! Our past, present, AND future coming together in a series of moments, in which we are cognizant of and CHOOSE to fight for (and use to our advantage) to advance this great journey known as life!

So, this is what I propose:

No longer try to “just move on”, or “get over it”. Rather, EMBRACE it! Do not ASSIMILATE the loss into another pathway of happiness. ASSOCIATE the loss with something positive within itself. When we lose a loved one, usually this looks like the time we all remember the “happy times” with said person. But take it deeper! Find what ABOUT those happy times existed as manifestations of who that person was. Thus, you create a legacy by which you can stand upon and EMBRACE your present and USE the experience to bring truth to the hope of your future. By doing this, you HONOR the loss and STRENGTHEN your life.

This applies to not just death, but any loss. Seize the positive that lies within!

Just moving on is a cop-out at the joy that lies within the WHOLE human experience. Don’t twist my words…I am not saying continue to be hurt, depressed, confused, etc. But these are just emotions. USE them…let them become processed in your cognitive mind and associate new neural links so that the emotions facilitate the strength that lies in their greater counterparts: healing, joy, understanding, etc.

So, why IS it so hard to just move on?

Simple: because God had bigger plans and value for our experiences, that lie beyond the sum of our parts…and those plans involve the whole “us”….because loss is designed to carry us ONWARD to better futures…but only if we embrace it and nurture it.

Do not move on…transcend.

Do you REALLY want to know? Bring it on…gimme what you got!

Any man who has ever been in a relationship, especially long-term ones, knows that there are just some moments when the hair on your neck stands up and you are, at first, frozen with fear. These moments are usually right after a comment or question that us guys don’t want to answer because honesty will get us killed. Like these for example:

“How does [insert not-so-pleasant article of clothing here] make me look?”

“I’m feeling fat today.”

“I think I should get back in the gym.” (or some variation of that relating to weight)

“That was such a mean thing! Right? I was the victim! Right?”

“Why do I have to keep reminding you of [insert repeated task here]?! Is it that hard to remember?!”

Ladies, these are not fair! They are emotionally charged and you will kill us if we answer with well thought out solutions and/or honesty! Stop it! Please, for the love of God!  🙂

Anyways, my point is, the old clichés are true: don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.

But what happens when there are questions and things that people do want the answers to…no matter how tough they may be to hear? Or, when they see all negativity, but want the positive of something, how do we turn their focus to asking such hard questions?

In Social Work, this is called the Strengths Focused Approach. Simply put, it is finding the strengths that exist within any person or situation, regardless of the circumstances. This approach is essential to helping others begin to understand the importance of asking the tough questions so they can arrive at the answers they seek.

For example, let’s hypothetically take a group meeting in a school about a child who has behavior issues. Attempts to talk to the family about their home life and the environment have been to no avail. The father will not come into meetings, and the mother will not talk about anything at home and only wants the school to do better at their jobs. This actually happens all too much in today’s world. Let’s add to the scenario by saying that the child has hinted at some questionable behavior by his father and older sibling towards he and his mother. The child wants to speak up, but won’t, nor will the mother. The only thing that they are saying is that they are afraid of losing anybody.

Now, most would look at all of the negatives of this situation: potential coercion, alcoholism/abuse/neglect/domestic violence, bad behaviors, silence and secrecy, etc. The urge may be to go into protect mode and “save” the child and family.

But, what if, this is actually what is holding them together? What if all of those negatives are what are providing stability?

The question then does not become: How can we save them?

But rather, it becomes: How can we improve their lives, and home?

How does the question change?

Simple. Taking the strengths based approach allows us to “ride the wave” of dysfunction, ultimately seeing something strong emerge: value of the family unit. This family values staying together so much, that they are willing to just “deal” with their issues and stay silent, all to protect the nucleus that is their home.

This is not comfortable, by any means. To take a negative and turn it into a strength and then use it to facilitate changes takes guts, optimism, hope, and tenacity beyond the “average” human levels. This is why us Social Workers are a breed in and of ourselves.

So what’s the point I am trying to make?

Well, I challenge you to not think about my point, but rather my purpose. There are two:

  1. I want all people to understand that there is the proverbial silver lining in any circumstance. One must just dig deep, put on a helmet, and ask the questions they may not want the answers to, or the questions whose answers have eluded them for too long.
  2. I call on and challenge YOU…yes, YOU….the ones reading this right now. Bring it on! I want you to comb through your life, your relationships, your beliefs, your politics, your hurts and heartaches, and your own curiosity…and bring me your questions! Bring me your thoughts! I want to create a dialogue to open up our minds and experiences to one another. But we who write and share ideas with the world are a community. And others who read our stuff and follow us are influenced in some way. I want to bring answers and thought to all.

Now, I am not going to sit here on a high horse and state that every question or pondering brought to this blog will get “the answer” or even AN answer. Sure, there will be things that I can answer, with a little digging and thoughtful responding will be ABLE to answer, and also things that we together will have to answer.

Some things we may have to agree to disagree (see my previous chapter on that LOL), but ultimately I am looking to help. I want to expand minds, open hearts, and share perspectives.

Throughout the coming days, I will be taking your questions, your curiosities, your requests for help and understandings and answering/addressing them here…right here…for others to join in and see…bringing camaraderie to us all. I will also be adding my own materials of things that I have questioned or sought and found answers to.

Let’s come together in a community of thought, intellect, and curiosity.

Ask…share…question…don’t be afraid.

What is anxiety and why can’t I shake it? Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people? Is there really a right and a wrong? Is conservative better than liberal, or vice versa? What’s wrong with all individuals being free completely?

These are just the sprinkle on the ice cream when it comes to the depth I am willing to go to discuss things.

So…here is my challenge:

BRING…IT…ON

I will not shy away from any discussion! I don’t have all of the answers, but I have lots of perspective…and SO DO YOU!

Let’s share! Let’s grow our community and our minds…for the betterment of us all as a human race!

Love you all, stay Blessed!!!

To Save Anyone, You Must Hope for Everyone

Ah, ’tis the end, folks. End of what you may ask? End of the journey through the life and understanding of the Great Social Worker. So, one must wonder, how does it actually end?

Here in lies yet another paradox: though the words cease, the life and legacy remain. Though I stop putting eloquence to a new perspective and promising theory as to the true origins of Social Work, the one whom which it is founded upon remains and His works continue through his disciples.

However, there is one lesson still to be learned. The lesson is in humility and hope.

The current state of affairs among our generation and today’s culture is directly correlated to the perspectives on success. We have become a results driven society who seek to acknowledge positive outcomes and success in said context. But what happened to the valuation of innovators, inventors, those possessing great ingenuity; whether it be in engineering, business, medicine, trades work, teaching, human services, or any professional and personal field?

I posit that society’s focus has washed them away. The focus on success by positive and profitable outcomes has overshadowed the success found through difference and unorthodox means. You see, our world has become afraid of failure and success must have a direct person to attribute it to.

Where would we be without the failures and screw ups? Simple: we would still be in pre-civilized society.

This is precisely why Social Work takes a stronger than normal person.

Unlike paramedics, police, firefighters, and doctors, us Social Workers have no way of actually saving a life. It’s, frankly, impossible. Unless a client is literally dying on the floor of our office or their home, we have no effect on their actual life that needs saving.

Why is this? Well, for a couple of reasons.

Social Workers are in the HELPING profession, not the SAVING profession. If you want to do this kind of work, with the intention to save lives, I’m sorry, but I have to be honest: GET OUT NOW!

Odds, are, more people you attempt to help are going to be worse off at some point before getting “better” and being “saved”. I am not trying to be cynical, but only real here.

It is an interesting thing; helping that is. When somebody asks/utilizes a Social Worker for help, you hope they are ready for change, but a lot of the time, they are really looking for a way out, loophole, justification that makes them feel better. This is why failure, struggle, resistance, and pain are all but inevitable.

I remember vividly my first dose of this. I was a crisis advisor/counselor for an at-risk/homeless youth shelter in my home town. I had a youth who had been living on the streets and gang banging to survive. He was picked up by police, labeled homeless, and brought to our crisis program. For three months I mentored, guided, coached, and taught this young man everything he said he wanted to change his life. We got him back in school, his grades went up significantly and he was looking towards graduation, with aspirations of college and becoming a teacher for other kids “like him”. On the outside, this was success. But inside of him, a darkness grew…and its name was Fear Of Uncertainty.

Once this young man was through our crisis program, he was eligible for our transitional living program for up to two years…perfect for getting through graduation. But, one day changed all of that. I was not made aware of many specifics, but here is what I know:

He had checked out of the building (as was allowed) and was going into town via the bus to go to work and then hang out with some new friends. As long as he was back by curfew he was golden. But he never came back. I know that he was reportedly involved with some acquaintances in “gang-related” activity. That’s all the police told us at the time. I didn’t, and still don’t know, if he was dead, hurt, in jail, hurt somebody, or whatever else “gang-related activity” could mean. All I knew was this: this young man had just thrown the last 3 months of success and a bright future out the window…without a freakin’ care in the world!

I’m admitting right here and right now, that I was pissed, confused, hurt, humiliated, and frustrated. That was at first though. Then the reality sank in.

I…cannot…save…everyone…let alone anyone.

This is the truth. Change comes from within, we talked about this. It is a personal choice for personal benefit. Us social workers are only there to coach, guide, educate, analyze, and collaborate with clients towards the change that THEY can only choose to make happen. No words, therapy, advice, or encouragement will be the thing that changes a person, only the influence they may not have seen to change themselves.

That’s it…the truth.

But there is another truth here that one must look deeper to find…but the deeper you look, the stronger the truth becomes.

That truth is: hope.

As a Social Worker, I HOPE everyday that those I work with find the courage and conviction to make the changes that I have guided and coached them towards. And that one day they will have the light bulb turn on and turn their directions. This is what drives me everyday, as well as those who do what I do.

Jesus knew this as well. He (being God Himself aside) knew that forcing or commanding change in people was not worth it. It was a decision that they had to make to follow Him if it were to be truly valuable. Jesus only commanded things of those who executed the change. This was and is called accountability. But without change, He did not have anything to hold others accountable for. This is why He was the Great Social Worker. He spent the time, energy, and expertise in guiding, teaching, supporting, and coaching His “clients” in the directions of change; the change that they needed to come to realize was necessary for fruitful lives.

Jesus modeled both hope and humility; which is why He was so good at what He did. He knew that there would be those like the youth from my shelter; the ones that would fall so hard and never come back. But His HOPE in humanity drove Him towards that higher purpose of all to change in ways of betterment. Just as I hope that youth has found his way, or will find his way.

This is the final lesson in how to emulate the First and Great Social Worker.

Be humble when you help, and know that failure and pain are inevitable…you cannot save everyone, let alone anyone.

BUT…HOPE for the success and be confident in that hope so that you always strive to help those in need.

With mastery of this and the other things discussed in this journey, we surely can live out Jesus’ great legacy.

Stand strong, know how change works, master the paradoxes, and do not be afraid of the failure and pain of others, but hope in their success and redemption from troubled lives.

Do these things, and we will truly see a changed world.

I love you all and wish continued Blessings in your lives…Peace be with you all, my friends!

Honey, I’m Goin’ Fishin’ Because I Love You!

In our culture today, there is a war raging between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”. Whether these two “groups” want to admit it or not, it is war. The worst part? It’s a finger-pointing game, without us realizing that we ALL fit into both categories. For example, I myself as a Social Worker see my family and I as the “Have Nots” compared to Mark Cuban. I make sub-median national income in a year, whereas he makes that in a day. However, to the single mother of 3 with a full-time job plus overtime who needs extra assistance, I and my family are the “Haves”.

Now I am not saying that I actually take this perspective. In fact, I am very content with my life. I work hard, there is a roof over head, food on the table, and bills getting paid. I love my wife more than life itself and my soon to arrive child the same. Life is grand. Sure, I would love to have a Mark Cuban fortune…but only so I could be generous and give to all, whether they need it or not. I don’t complain, but I do dream.

The point is, with this invisible war raging (acknowledged or not), those who “have” are seen as selfish. Coin words such as “the rich”, “elites”, “wealthy”, etc. are created to exemplify the disdain for their lifestyles they have worked hard to achieve. Their vacations, cars, golf outings, team ownerships, and anything else are seen as luxuries and completely unnecessary.

I have always challenged this idea, as a generalization that is. I am sure that some of these people are, indeed, selfish…welcome to a broken and fallen world. But, I then have to turn my attention to myself and my career. I have to ask myself: Given my circumstances, my income, my situations, are some of the things I choose to do and own make me selfish.

In marriage, it is extremely important to place your relationship with God above all else, but for those who do not believe in God, then the relationship and all of its facets must overtake the individual as priority. Same with a whole family. This is pretty much the general rule of thumb to at least the set the foundation of a successful relationship that thrives.

With that said, I get to the gist of this chapter: the paradox of self-care vs. selflessness.

My wife and I love to do things together. Whether it be watching old childhood TV shows on Netflix, going for hikes in the Hill Country, walking our dogs, or having our best friends over for a home cooked meal, I love to spend time with her and my family. But, there are things that I love to do equally as much that she cannot stand. Specifically, I love to hunt and fish. Being behind the scope of a .30-06 with a 6-point buck in the reticle is amazing; but so is sitting on the shore with a cricket on a hook and just waiting…even for hours. I absolutely love these things! And, can’t forget about baseball….my college ball days are behind me, but I do play in an adult league. I pay to play, and that is money well spent.

Now, do I bring my one and only with me on these things? Not really. She comes to my games once a week when she wants to, and she won’t be caught dead hunting or fishing, generally. But she understands the NEED for me to do these things.

When I choose to go on a hunting trip (even for just a day), I always ask two things:

  1. Where is our life at right now, and am I needed at home?
  2. Where am I at personally and how much do I need this?

These questions define the line between self-care and selfishness…ultimately allowing for a selfless life.

Let me explain.

If there is no emergency, rockiness in our relationship or her life, extreme financial hardship, or other pressing matter, AND I am high on stress or anxiety and feeling restless, then (putting it bluntly) I don’t care how much my wife and family “needs” me to be at home and “just there”…I…AM…GOING…HUNTING.

I am not trying to be a misogynist or jerk or prick here, I am making a point. When that “cocktail” is happening in my life, I need my release. I need to CARE for MYSELF in a healthy and constructive way for one reason and one reason only:

So that I can come home, reinvigorated, and present minded for her and my child…so I can SERVE them and be there for whatever they need…fully, attentively, and wholeheartedly. My self-care leads to selflessness.

The same goes for her as well!

The point brings us around to this necessary paradox in Social Work. As professionals, we are VOLUNTARILY taking on others’ problems. That is a lot of pressure and energy necessitated. It takes its toll!

In graduate school, my mentor once told me that “even therapists need therapists”. Saying that, even those who help need help. We need those things that allow us to release and refocus. Without them, we are not going to be of the best help for our clients.

You cannot walk into a store with only $0.79 and expect to walk out with a Snickers bar that’s $0.85…you will likely get a nice afternoon in “the tank”. But, if you take your time, wait, and seek out the extra funds, you will be in peanut and caramel heaven.

Same goes with us Social Workers. We cannot expect to give the client what he or she deserves if our tank is only half-full and we haven’t cared for our own issues and stresses.

Jesus preached on the necessity of taking care of one’s self a lot. Granted, this was usually through meditation, prayer, community, reflection, and other disciplines of the Spirit. However, His intent and message was clear: Take care of yourself if you need to, only so you can love on your neighbor and strengthen those around you.

He understood that to be the effective Social Worker He needed to be, He had to care for Himself as well.

The historical manuscripts highlight various of moments where the Great Social Worker took “He time” so He could better serve His Father and the world.

Just one example, and probably most prominent, is the night before He was to be put to death. He was hanging out with His best buds (the Disciples) and probably drinking a few cold ones….wait, no, probably not…that’s just me. But He was in community with those that meant a lot to Him and were His legacy. At one point on this “awesome” night, He got up and went away. He brought along of couple of his most trusted buddies to “keep watch” for Him, as He continued further on His own.

Now think about this: This night He KNEW that it would be His last alive under the stars. BUT, He spent time alone…without His friends…without His comfort…even though they “needed” Him with them as well, or so it seemed (they ended up falling asleep…jerks). But the point is, Jesus knew that for them to be better off and continue the change He so helped them to gain, He had to get right with Himself and God, for His own care, so that His selflessness could shine and be a beacon to those He was trying to help…the rest of the world.

Was this selfish of Him?…maybe on the surface. But in the end, it prepared Him to better SERVE those He chose to help.

Social Worker extraordinaire was He…and we follow suit today.

Ultimately, caring for one’s self when they’re feeling low, stressed, restless, at rock bottom or on the slopes is a necessary thing. It only better equips someone to INVEST in those around them.

We Social Workers understand this…though, at times, we don’t take our own advice…and teach it to others, colleagues, and clients alike.

Jesus knew that we must take care of ourselves for the SOLE purpose of being capable to fully and unabashedly serve those we desire to help and love.

The distinction between selfishness and selflessness is a simple one:

It lies in the direction of purpose. Who is gaining the most by your actions?

If you bought that new rifle just to have another toy to show off and shoot from time to time, and you didn’t even think about how it could bring some consequence to those around you…it was probably selfish.

But if it serves as a hobby that you can utilize and come back refreshed for others, or it was as a means to incorporate another into your life for their benefit, congratulations on being selfless.

The key lies in intentions and purpose. Not the actions in and of themselves. How is that action and purpose being used and in what direction…those are the defining questions.

So next time you criticize another for a selfish act or purchase…attempt to see their purpose and delivery of it.

Then, ask the same of yourself:

How am I caring for me so that I may serve and help others?

Stay blessed and keep thinking, amigos!

I Disrespectfully Agree…Wait…That’s Not Right

At what point in time did the phrase “I disagree” become offensive? Seriously. I want to know who, what, when, where, went wrong in that this became hurtful.

Our minds are beautifully complex concepts (not our brains, our minds). We are able to see, feel, think, and behave within the realms of improbable. Conscious thought separates us from the animals, which is why we are the greatest species.

But this cognitive ability allows us to reason, check fact against fallacy, incorporate emotion into reason (not the other way around as it has become), and draw conclusions by pulling from all available sources of information around us. But, it is also this process that inherently creates: disagreement. Believe it or not, we don’t agree on everything.

Any of us who have had siblings and parents in our lives know the power and perils of disagreement. It happened seemingly daily growing up. Arguments with your parents because you did not want to do something and thought another activity was better use of your time; but those of us who turned out okay, usually listened to our parents in the end. We disagreed with their idea, but respected their authority over us.

This is the point. Disagreement can be respectful. There is nothing inherently hurtful about disagreement, unless he being disagreed with is über sensitive and easily offended. Disagreement is necessary! It weeds out the wheat from the chaff. Allows for accurate conclusions to be drawn.

Ask yourselves this question: If disagreement is hurtful and we should not disagree to spare others’ feelings, would we be this advanced in science, technology, medicine?

If you answered “Yes” to that questions…may God have mercy on your soul, and I am available for counseling. But if you answered “No”, welcome to the world of cognition and logic! Yay for you!!!

Social Work has MANY disagreements. Whether it be policy, practice, technique, principles, ethics, etc., we have many in the field; both with colleagues and clients. But a social worker respects the other side with empathy (which we will talk about in another section). Both sides come to the table and discuss the disagreement while respecting the other’s side. The disagreement continues until logic, reason, and best solutions are discerned. This may take a long time or two minutes. That. Is. OKAY!!!! Again…it is OKAY to disagree and come to a solution down the road. You know what? It’s okay to NOT come to a solution! *gasp*

Yea, I said it.

Many times in helping clients, a stalemate is reached. The professional will see a best solution and the client will disagree, or vice versa. Through the therapeutic process, a solution is usually reached and on semi-agreeable terms. But other times, neither side can budge. This may mean moving on to another issue or symptom and coming back later. Worst case, it may result in the termination of the relationship and a referral to a better suited professional. None of these scenarios mean, inherently, that any disrespect was had.

I have had many clients and friends that I have been polar opposite of on issues and problems, but we still got along and worked together just fine…because we had respect for the other.

Jesus knew that things would get messy when we began to disagree. He understood and taught that to disagree takes rationality, logic, truth. But to respect took heart, feelings, and love. Many times in His ministry and professional career He disagreed with others…mainly Pharisees. And at times these disagreements would make his blood boil! (Anyone? The temple “incident”?)

However, this did not stop Him from engaging with everybody, even so boldly as to CONTINUE openly disagreeing with them. Jesus did not back down from disagreement and confrontation. He stood up to it, faced it, but gave respect to those opposed. He loved them all the same and respected their concept of truth. But, He strongly disagreed with them to show the greater Truth and the facts and rationality behind it.

Some, responded well to Him and saw the light, they agreed after a time. Some, however, continued to disagree, and turned away. Jesus never disrespected them, He never hated them, He only pointed out that they were not thinking logically or rationally and their solutions were off kilter. Those who differed, who FELT he disrespected them…well, I’m just going to say it…they were pansies who were afraid of admitting to being wrong and decided to take the emotional route and cowardly blame Jesus for being “mean”, “ignorant”, “bigoted”, or “not nice” (maybe in different words though).

Jesus was NEVER disrespectful…He never called people ill deserved names or made fun of their character or their mammas. He only pointed out their fallacies and wrong life choices, because He loved them. He respected them if they walked away and overall, because He LISTENED to them. How do we know if someone is disrespecting us? It’s when they argue but do not listen. If you argue AND listen, you are now debating. Jesus, He was also the first great debater.

So there it is. Respectful disagreement. It’s the epitome of debate. We can exist as respectful beings and still disagree. But, if you cannot grasp this concept, you are no where close to mastering the paradox of disagreement and respect.

The challenge for such is this: Can you look at someone opposite of you and respect all that they are and they choose to be, but at the end of the day disagree with everything they do or say?

This is the battle we wage…are you able to survive?

Love Others So Much That Truth Offends…Change Follows Thereafter

There is a meme floating around on the good ol’ Facebook that says: “2015: The year that people were offended by everything”. I would LOVE to discredit this meme as just another humorous attempt at attention, but I cannot. Why? Because it is unfortunately and profoundly true.

Society has started to crumble under the weight of its own feelings. No longer, it seems, can sound conclusions and rational decisions be made, because too many are “hurt” by things they don’t like or “make” them feel bad. It seems that instead of being willing to accept truth, people get hurt by it. In fact, those claiming tolerance seem to be the most intolerant and easiest “offended” by things.

The point that is trying to be made, is that offense is something one chooses to feel. Which, is validated! But it should not be cause for others to speak truth and fact and reason. This is the first paradox in Social Work practice that must be utilized and mastered: Love and Truth.

Though many in today’s degraded culture will say that it’s impossible to be loving and truthful. In fact, most will jump straight to calling truth “hate”. Case and point: Christians vs. the gay rights movement. Those of faith are pigeonholed as bigots, and full of ignorance by simply using, biology, chemistry, psychology, and the Bible as firm pillars to stand on and speak truth. But they don’t love people any less. They are just speaking truth. They love others SO much that they want to present the purest truth possible for others’ benefit.

Now, there are many other circumstances of this love and truth dichotomy being perverted, but this was just the most prominent and obvious.

The Social Worker must strive to deliver love to their clients, while also being bold in truth. If a client is being helped for a drug addiction, let’s say methamphetamine, and they decide to start doing cocaine to get off heroin, what is the worker supposed to do? Add to this, that the client says that work is going better, their relationships are improving, and they feel happier. The societal driven “love” response would be: “Good for you! I’m going to ignore that cocaine is just as dangerous to your mind and psyche, and can also create an addiction, because you are feeling better!” But, is that the best interest of the client? Is that the most effective way to help? Absolutely not!

The social worker in this case must validate the life improvement of the client but advocate for better and more beneficial interventions. This is where truth comes in. In not so many words. the social worker must basically tell the client: “Congrats on the improvement and desire to better yourself! But you are being completely stupid in the specific methods of those improvements! You’re going to do more harm than good and it cannot be condoned! Here, let’s try something else.”

The social worker has just shown love (validating improvement and happiness), but giving a whopping dose of truth (stupidity, terrible long-term solution, physiological degradation) to turn their focus to a better end and outcome.

Sure, the client may become offended, but it doesn’t matter. They need to know they are cared for; cared for SO much that they will be held accountable and not go quietly into despair, trouble, and hurt.

This is a paradox, but an essential one to be mastered in its use. We must be able to love others so much that they will get nothing but truth. Dare I say, we mush love people so much that we are willing to hurt them if it’s in the best interest of their heart, mind, body, and soul. At that point, we do not play party to their negative decisions; responsibility is on them. And research shows, that when the bulk of responsibility is on the least amount of people, more often than not, right and ethical and moral decisions are more likely to be made.

To be an effective Social Worker, one must love the client and support them through everything (as long as they are willing to put in the effort towards progress) yet not let them stray into the world of detriment and hurt by staying firm in the truth of intervention and help.

Jesus was, yet again, a master of this method. He loved everybody unconditionally and equally. However, he never shied away from rebuking those who pushed “feelings” and “desires” and reactions to their own “offense” too far. He knew that He must love the person in front of Him, without submitting to their thoughts and/or actions.

Jesus loved us so much, that He refused to let us stray too far from the truth that was plain to see, but we chose to ignore. Jesus, believe it or not, would turn away from those who refused to accept the truth and (shocking!) were offended by the things they needed to hear or the facts of a situation. He would not be party to their transgressions, but would always be there to love them, so that they had open arms to run to…when they were ready.

Love and truth must exist together. Truth is not hate…it cannot be hate. Hate is actions or omissions of behaviors…truth is not a behavior.

Your challenge for engagement is this: Do you love those around you enough to present the truth when it’s needed? Or will you watch them and world around your degrade, because you are “scared” of their “offense”?

Rub Some Dirt In It…Keep Fighting

Any musician will tell you (myself included) that feedback from a microphone or cable is the musical equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. It’s enough to make one want to rip off their ears and smack the source of the painful nose. It just plain sucks! But, it does have a purpose. It lets all of those working sound and on stage that something needs to change.

As with music, feedback in the change process serves a major function. It directs the thing changing to the best course of action. But not all feedback is negative. To understand this, we must see the difference between positive feedback and negative feedback.

In Social Work, positive and negative do NOT necessarily refer to good and bad; as this is how society usually uses the terms. They actually are more related to chances, odds, likelihood. In consequence models, positive and negative are related to reward and punishment. Something positive is something added, and negative is something removed. In this context, we are using them in reference to likelihood of an action (or series of actions) to continue or cease.

So far the understanding has emerged of how Social Workers facilitate change in a client’s life. Whether that be an individual, group, community, or policy. Rapport is established, and then the depth of the problem is sought through questioning, and finally, the change is spurred on by challenging the client. But how do we know that it’s working or it’s not? Simple: by feedback.

The client becomes challenged, they either succeed or they fail that challenge. There is no “almost made it”. If they succeed, that’s positive feedback. We know what works and we encourage change through that. The change is that the challenges become greater, more difficult to attain; but, present greater and more beneficial results. Positive feedback results in an increased likelihood that the change will continue onward to greater success.

If the client fails, then we have negative feedback. It tells us that something did not win out and the likelihood of change continuing has decreased. What has to change, then, is that the challenges must shift to become more achievable AND applicable to the specific position and situation of the client.

The tricky part with feedback, especially negative feedback, is identifying which part of the client’s life contributed to the feedback. Was it a person? A change in financial status? Pain or death? Drugs? Or something else? The hard part is understanding that a person is greater than the sum of their parts…yet those parts contribute to the success and failure of a client…whether or not they are acknowledged.

This is the challenge of a Social Worker. It is not just the client we challenge and work with, but rather the entire powder keg known as their life, and all parts of it.

Feedback is essential to the change process and the Social Worker’s efficacy. Without it, direction and clarity cease to exist and no success is possible. But, on a meta level, feedback provides something that is almost more important than the information received in and of itself. It provides the all too important Safety Net.

We all need safety nets. Even in time of success, safety nets are needed. In this context, positive feedback has the safety net of protecting against egoism, selfishness, and pride. It allows for the sweet taste of victory, without getting to big of a head, by presenting another challenge.

When I was a kid, I played select soccer in middle school. It took me until I became a Social Worker to understand why my coach had a particular method that, at that time, used to drive me nuts. When we lost games, there was always a sort of celebration. Whether a pizza night out, ice cream, or team sleepover, we always celebrated. But, when we would win, we stayed after the game and did wind sprints for a half hour. (Disclaimer: for those of you who do not know what wind sprints are…I envy you)

After the season that year, I asked him why he had such an annoying and weird method. He explained it, and I will paraphrase, as such:

When you win, you risk becoming self-absorbed and prideful, and then to big for your britches. When the next challenge comes along, you are then not prepared and will ultimately lose. But when you lose, you are humbled, and must learn to take pride in your efforts, as well as identify the change needed to take on the next challenge. Basically, when you win, work harder, because eventually, something will come that is too big to handle. When you lose, accept the defeat, but lean on those around you, keep your head up, and change what’s necessary to succeed the next time.

Again, super annoying at the time. But, was extremely eye-opening and truthful. That year, our team was undefeated on a run to 2nd place in the entire state; the best record the team had ever seen in its years of existence.

This example is an analogy for feedback in the change process. With success, the safety net of feedback prepares the client for the next challenge, increasing their chances of change by challenging what is necessary. With failure comes the realization that something was amiss, and can now be corrected for and chances of change are increased by changing what is necessary.

Ultimately, this is how growth is achieved and lasting change is solidified.

Jesus understood this better than anyone. He knew that for His “clients” to change, they would have to be challenged, molded, changed little bits at a time, through the use of feedback. He had the perfect safety nets in place to keep the clients in place of change. By doing this, the only way feedback failed, was when the client gave up and walked away from Him…thusly walking away from change.

When His followers would fall, and fail, He would be present to pick them back up. They could lean on His support and he would continue to help them seek the change necessary in their life to facilitate increased likelihood of changing overall. He would get them to focus on what went wrong, or what went right. Then, like the Master Social Worker He was, he would either challenge them to rise up to the next challenge, or challenge them to change the little things causing the speed bumps.

Jesus understood that the Challenge and Feedback phases were both individual yet interdependent of each other. A cycle that must be followed for the change to last forever. He was a master at this, and the changes He brought are still with us today.

Listen closely: Jesus never said that people should not be pushed…He only said they should not be pushed too hard, too fast. Of course I’m paraphrasing Jesus’ social work, but the point is valid. He knew we all needed pushing. But the frequency, intensity, and magnitude of the challenge directly correlated to the sum of a client’s parts. He also knew that acknowledging the feedback from the challenges were crucial to keeping the clients bought in and fighting for the greater change so desperately sought.

Jesus’ work in the change department was magnificent. It was long-lasting and legendary. He will forever be immortalized for His works and understanding of all things that embody Social Work. Though people may disagree or not see it, Social Work is Jesus’ legacy. Whether you’re like me and a professional, or just an “ordinary” person…if you are trying to change people for the betterment of their lives, and follow these outlined stages in any way, you are doing Social Work.

The question I leave you with is this: Who/what is trusted for feedback in your life and others?

If you do not know, then seek, find, and use/help them.

We have just scratched the surface of all of this, people…stay with me…the ride continues.

Step Up or Step Aside: Do You Have What It Takes?

Here we go, time to lay it on thick for the first time…yes, everything up to this point has been playing nice.

Change is painful and change is hard. Why? Because it challenges patterns, habits, convictions, and deeply held thoughts and beliefs. If it was easy then it wouldn’t be worth it. But here is the caveat: for change to truly be an impact and long-lasting, let alone beneficial to the greater of society, it has to be directed to the best interests of that person and the community at large.

Unfortunately, society has lost this vision, and all of the solid pathology of change. Somewhere along the way we started changing in the wrong ways and in the wrong directions. This is not a chapter on the pseudo-progresses of society, so I will not go into depth, but I will highlight what is meant by this idea. So, bear with the explanations and we will see how Social Workers use these concepts.

I remember as a youth that baseball and soccer were my life…still are in many respects. But I will also never forget the confusion and pain associated when society met reality, and it came via the dreaded Participation Trophy. My teammates and I got one after EVERY season of sports, probably through the 5th grade. Seriously, this still happens today! You get an award for just trying. When did trying become a standard of accolade. Awards are designed for the above and beyond. But I digress. The point of confusion and pain came when reality hit. I remember in 6th grade I had to write my first “real” paper. No clue anymore about what it was based on, but I had to spend hours writing it. When I was finished, I asked my father (whom had a Master’s degree, thus was good at writing…you have to be to survive Graduate School) to proofread it. I worked really hard on that paper! So you can imagine my dismay when there was more red on that paper than a bleeding neck wound when he was finished. And even after that and editing it, I only received a “B-minus”. I was torn! That was “A+” work! I TRIED really hard, the best I could at that time and I didn’t get the award (at least in the context of grades).

These anecdotes bring up the main point: just trying and doing what one is good at, or okay with, right now will never lead to ultimate success. Only going beyond what one’s perceived limits are will allow for true achievement…that is, challenging the current status and belief of the situation to push higher. Contentment breeds stagnation, whereas challenge and competition breed larger success. This is fact. If you want to move forward, you have to move higher.

Now let’s not get carried away and assume I mean in tangible things like finances, career, etc. I am speaking on a deeper level here.

So this idea of challenging and changing in the RIGHTEOUS directions begs the question: Why are we not moving forward as a society and inherently as individuals and communities?

It’s simple really. It’s because “content” allows for feeling good and happy, whereas change and challenge don’t always feel good and a lot of times hurt. This is the problem! Today, so many people are so easily “offended” by almost everything and are feeling “oppressed” when challenged through reason, fact, and best interest intentions; our culture has become “sissified”. Again, this is not a social commentary so I will leave it here and apply it.

When a client has moved through the Questioning phase, clarity and direction have been achieved. They now see where they need to go and why. The process now shifts. The professional will now challenge all of the revelations brought to light in the previous phase. And, bottom line, it is going to hurt, it is going to be messy, and it will scar the person and community…but the scars will be battle-born, and the person will live to fight another day.

For example, let’s take a common area of change and help…depression. Once the worker and client question through the hows, whys, and whats of the depression, clarity is brought. Usually, the depression was triggered by non-controllable events, but the results were controllable thoughts which then triggered the negative feelings and behaviors. So what is done? We attack, hard, the negative and irrational thoughts. Control the thoughts, control the behaviors, change the feelings and the life. A common irrational though discovered in the questioning phase, in a case like this, is: “I have been feeling this way for so long and no body has noticed…no one cares.”

That’s a bold statement, and valid feeling, and a dangerous thought pattern. How do you challenge that?! The answer is: you do it carefully, strategically, and with the best interest of the client at heart. Challenge the irrational with the rational. Discern WITH them the following things (and not necessarily in question form): How has nobody noticed if these things you feel are real and are part of your identity? So there is really nobody in your life who cares? No one who listens? No friends? No family? Hmmmmm…what about the social worker right now? Do they care? Because that’s somebody who both notices and cares. Thus, the irrational thought pattern is challenged. The client is now pushed back on their heels and has to make a decision…do they fight the change, or do they accept the challenge.

This was a very basic example and not nearly as thorough as the whole process looks, but it drives the point deeper. For a change process to be complete and successful, the thing being changed has to go through a seemingly endless stream of challenges to build a track of successes. This is the strategic part. The “change-ee” must be challenged in ways that success of each challenge is at the highest probability, but not without good effort on their part.

One of my favorite clinical experiences was seeing my graduate school professor demonstrate this idea with a depressed client. The client was in the challenge phase and was ready for change. At the very end of this particular session, my professor looked at the client and gave them their “assignment”, or challenge for that week. She said, “Okay, great work this week. For next session, I want you to go home and keep being depressed. Just track it for me each day.” My mind was blown…she just told the person to KEEP being depressed, the very thing that needed changing. What the hell just happened?! She explained, I will paraphrase:

She said that this client has been a “fence sitter”, not committing to many things in their life, always playing the middle. However, by coming to her for intervention with depression, they were making a slight lean towards one side of that fence finally. She said that the challenge phase for this client was surrounding the idea on how to keep “pushing” them towards that good side in which they began to lean towards. She said that by telling the client to stay depressed, she was setting them up for guaranteed success. How? Well, this person struggled with the fence mentality but also had the irrational thought pattern that they could never please anybody as they required, including the client’s self. She explained that what she used was a paradoxical injunction. If the client continued to become depressed, then they followed instructions and please the professional. If they realized the stupidity in staying depressed and forced themselves to feel better, then they succeeded and pleased their own self by following through with “committing to the steps of change”.

This…is…flipping…brilliant! Either way, the irrational thought has been challenged and the client has taken the first successful step and is ready for further challenges.

This is the social worker’s prerogative in helping the world. Once clarity and direction are attained, things must be challenged until change is achieved. And it is a lot of work, takes a lot of strategy, and a LOT of good rapport. No one did this better than Jesus, as far as I’m concerned.

Jesus did the three things that a great challenge phase must be built upon. He challenged priorities, faith, and thinking. A little side note here: Jesus’ main challenges for others came through His disciples to the greater Church at large. For this series’ sake, we can look at the disciples like the first full graduating class of social workers who were trained by Jesus. Because, in reality, they were. Yes, Jesus did challenge them as well, and they all went through the change process. But Christ’s mark on the field of Social Work was truly carried out in His legacy among men. In fact, that’s how social work is done. All aspects of a client’s life are INCORPORATED into the change process. The social worker is not the lonely change agent…they are just the “puppet master” and coach. As was Jesus.

In His walk with people and helping communities change, He always was challenging their priorities.When Paul was writing to the Galatians, the message reflected their misguided priorities. For the changes they sought, they needed to stop focusing on their good works, and more on their reasons for doing such works. The challenge was to change their hearts and the reasons WHY they were doing good things. In Philippi, Paul carried Jesus’ challenge of priorities within relationships. The people were struggling with true change because of who and what they were focused on giving their time and devotion to. The challenge was for them to prioritize each other…believers…the community in which they belonged to most and had the most impact in their lives. He truly challenged the priorities of those needing change so they could better focus on the goals.

Many times early on the in the disciples’ lives, Jesus challenged their faith. Theology aside, faith is really just wholehearted trust in a particular belief or series of beliefs. Jesus knew this, and at that time, the faith was referencing God and Himself. He challenged their faith and pushed them to enact it, many times! In fact, in the Great Commission (or, for our sake, the Great Challenge), He instructed that they go “and make disciples of ALL nations”. Okay, this is physically IMPOSSIBLE at the time history. There was no way that with the means of travel and life expectancy of humans the disciples could actually accomplish this. But Jesus was telling them not to actually do it, but rather testing their faith and commitment to challenge to see if they would succeed in devoting themselves to their trust, belief, and change. Big challenge, but achievable. Because even today, it’s difficult to find a place that even the name Jesus isn’t known. Challenge accepted….challenge achieved.

Finally, Jesus was VERY good at challenging people’s thinking. Or, as we professionals now call it, irrational thoughts. He would hear other’s resistances to change and the challenge and bring them to the realization that their thoughts are not logical, not righteous, and only delaying the change they need in their lives. He refused to let them back down. When resistance to challenge came at Him, He met it right back with equal force AND support. Such is the social worker’s skill. He did it and it worked. Lives were changed and the world started to become better. The followers exist to this day and are growing daily. Lives are changing daily because of the work of the Great Social Worker.

If you don’t know the movie The Sandlot, then 1) get out from under that rock, and 2) pay attention. There is a dream sequence where Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez has an encounter with Babe Ruth. Towards the end of the encounter, The Babe says, “Remember kid: Heroes are remembered, but legends never die.”

In 2000+ years, Jesus is that legend. His work among mankind is still talked about today. And not just through Christians and the Bible. He is named in tablets, OTHER religions’ books, historical manuscripts, and through oral history. The Great Social Worker changed lives and communities, the same way us workers do today. One step at a time, and with challenging the things that keep others trapped in their hurts, habits, and hangups.

So the question is then left for you all: Will you change this world? Will you engage and change as well?

The bottom line is this:

Do you have the guts to rise to the challenge, and not cower in fear at the things that will hurt you, pain you, offend you, and change you…all for the greater good or your life and others’?

Don’t answer now…but when you’re ready, I, other social workers, and The Great Social Worker are waiting to help.

How Does That Make You Feel?

I will be the first one to admit that I don’t always, in fact rarely do I, give a straight and simple answer to people. Call it being a blabber-mouth or the curse of being in the helping profession, it doesn’t matter. The point is that people tend to want simplicity, ease. Even when it comes to their questions. Whether those are as simple as, “What time is it?”, or as deep as, “What is the meaning of life?”

I find it increasingly disturbing that society is growing restless with the journey of the human experience and would much rather settle for the human destination. People tend to want an end to things; a way to stop the effort that seems so endless and pointless. But if we would stop, if only for a moment, to appreciate the complexity of life and all within it, we would see so much  more and clarity would truly be ours.

This will come up later in this series as well, but I will hint at it now because it rings true. Philosophy and science alike show us that often times, the simplest and most logical answers are generally the most accurate. This is the premise behind the scientific method’s use and necessity of the null hypothesis…but that’s for another time and context.

What I mean, is that if we stay in the journey and seek depth, often the answer we NEED has been there all along and is much simpler than we make it out to be. It’s almost a paradox:

We ask questions and expect THE answer or a simply SATISFYING one, yet that answer still leaves us with more questions and unsatisfied. Now, I don’t mean questions like “What time is it?”. I mean the personal questions, the nagging ones that won’t let us sleep, or heal, or be at peace. A common example is the question that usually follows tragedy: “Why did this happen?”

Simple enough right? Well, what happens when a “simple” answer is given? If a person asked that to another, and that other were to say, “Because it just did”. Does that bring peace? Of course not! What if the answer was, “Because there are bad things in this world.” Definitely not the answer we NEED. So does it squash the initial asker’s need for an answer? Doubtful. More than likely it leads to confusion, dismay, frustration, and MORE questions. At this point, the person probably doesn’t want to seek the answers to the seemingly endless cycles of questions to arrive at their needed destination…the answer that provides clarity and direction.

I know, it just got real philosophical for a moment. But, it was necessary. Context is everything! And when it comes to helping people and helping them change, we have to know the importance of questions and where we are at as a society…all for the purpose of moving forward and deeper. This is where rubber meets the road. Philosophical concept meets practical applicability.

Social Work really is all about the journey. It leads us professionals through the depths of despair and to the peaks of triumphs, alongside our clients. But it is an arduous, painful, and sometimes confusing journey. The stage of change we focus on in this chapter is the Questioning/Seeking phase. It follows rapport building…and for good reason. Now, rapport is a continuous phase in and of itself, but it is where we always start. Then, we begin to seek and question, with the person targeted for help and change.

On a rare occasion, a client or a community has no idea what the issues are and what needs to change. This makes the process longer, but the steps and concepts are consistent. A lot of the time, the issues are evident and repercussions visible; making the time in the process easier to swallow so to speak. But nonetheless, they are seeking answers.

So why not give the depressed client the true and easy answer to their question of “Why can I not feel happy? Where did this come from?” We could just say, “It’s attributed to a neurochemical imbalance caused by some trigger or trauma that you had no control over happening and it will always be a part of you.” To be honest, that is the simple and truthful answer. But it is not the answer that the person needs and seeks! There are questions within the questions they ask and a social worker’s job is to work within the scope of that person’s life and all its pieces to reach that conclusion they so desperately need. And this applies to all change and help, not just depression.

A social worker is not an answer guru. Sure, we may know the answer after fully analyzing a person and their life aspects. But, it would be a waste of time, and energy to just give the answer. The solution and answer to an issue, or change effort, is always more impactful when it is reached by the person being helped. Hard work always pays off more than laziness…hard truth right there.

The change effort must start with questioning the presenting issues. The social worker guides this journey and helps the helpee (yup, just used that word) find their own needed answers. This doesn’t always and literally mean questioning the person directly. The idea of the questioning phase is to either use explicit questions to gain insight from the person being helped, or to create implicit questions within themselves to sift through.

There are many ways this is done, and many techniques; and yes, one way is the constant asking of “How does that make you feel?” (Thanks Freudian stereotype!) But this is not a chapter on “How to administer the question phase in the change process”. Rather, it is to highlight the importance of it to the social worker’s purpose and change process. But most of all, it is to lay another brick in understanding the building that was the First Social Worker.

Jesus was one of the best at leading changes in people and navigating this phase. To be honest, I would LOVE to highlight every single time Jesus never gave a straight answer and his followers had to think, question, and re-question things within His guidance to arrive at the needed answers; but, I just do not have the time or enough coffee to go through each one of them. So, I will highlight the general methods that are common to Jesus’ work in changing lives; all so the point becomes clear.

The most common, or at least first to come to mind, method of Jesus’ social work was His use of parables. Man! Do some of those confuse the heck out of people! The prodigal son, the sower of seeds, etc., etc. There are a ton of them! But their purpose is what is key. Jesus would take a question, an issue, or a change process that was needed and use stories that had deep meanings beyond the words that were heard. Each parable was directly related to the situation, but never had a flat-out answer. Those who heard them had to sift through the cryptic presentation of these stories and find the pattern within. Once this was achieved, those who heard were beginning to understand…they had found clarity and direction. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love story time?!

A second method of Jesus’ WAS his use of questions in response to questions. And I’ll bet there were plenty of pissed off followers. Because, again, be honest, we HATE getting our questions answered with questions! But, Jesus had a purpose. By asking questions in response, he was pushing people’s’ minds into unchartered territory for a given situation…making them begin to seek within their own minds and souls, the push to begin a journey into their own change. He knew that sometimes people asked questions because they just did not want to seek answers, and would rather have the answer and go about their merry way. Jesus knew the value of discovery and the potency that self-arrived answers held within change.

Finally, Jesus’ last common method was what I like to call the “Crap…Got Me There” method. There are many times within Scripture and historical manuscripts that people would ask Jesus questions and they were seeking loopholes, deflections, ways around things…basically looking for answers that would make life easier or help them avoid change. And usually, Jesus would give an answer that completely obliterated what they WANTED as an answer. But, again, it was the NEEDED answer. This generally happened with the loopholes in reference to how to live their lives in accordance with the “laws of the land”. Jesus would instead give it to them straight and tell them what they already knew, but didn’t want to hear. Social Workers do this well when clients are trying to find a way out of change, or when they want to justify their current patterns that led to the issues in the first place.

I’m sure by now that you all are probably glazed eyed at what you just read. In fact, keeping with the theme, you may have more questions than clarity. Good!!! Welcome to the beginning of understanding this phase!

You see, this phase is not as cut and dry as the other phases. There are no “Do and Do Not” lists really. Each situation and issues has its own context and specifics. The purpose is not a step by step guide of how to get a person to question their questions. The purpose is to understand that for the answers needed to change, a journey must be started in which the person being helped seeks their own answers and owns the process.

Why? Because when a person finds the needed answers, they gain clarity and direction. When they reach this point, then the worker pounces…and the person is now ready to be CHALLENGED. And when Jesus challenged, He meant business…for reals, yo!

With that said, please continue to expand your minds and seek within your own hearts and souls. Find your answers. Gain clarity. See your path. And be ready to accept the challenge of change.

Have your helmets ready for next time…the challenges await!

Relationships and Change Can’t Be 180 Characters or Less

Relationships are tricky! No, not the romantic kinds specifically, but in general. It seems that in a world driven by technology and how perceptively close we can be without actually being close, true relationships are hard to find. One can be easily deceived into thinking that their 300+ “friends” on Facebook are actually that, friends. But are they really? Do those people actually KNOW you and you them? Minus the few posts, opinions, quips, and memes, does one really have a deep and intimate connection with that person? In other words, can those two individuals truly RELATE to one another?

Some might say “Yes! Of course!”. However, the human experience and psychology as a whole would say “No! It is an illusion, a fabrication.”

Before technology and social media swept our world and society, people had to actually talk to each other. They had to ask questions, seek answers, share information, gauge one another. Things like trust, respect, kindness, courtesy, and intimacy had to be built, fostered, and nurtured. In turn, meaningful relationships could develop and connections were based on relational contexts and pretenses. Basically, people could relate to one another on levels that were beyond the surface. This was done through face to face contact, which allowed for the all-too important aspects of non-verbal communication and intuition to strengthen what words and time lacked.

For years, psychologists, social workers, sociologists, and philosophers have all understood the depths to which human existence and communication reach. The value of the intuition and non-verbal communication is priceless. The interesting thing is how these work. We are able to quantify non-verbals very easily. It’s called body language, the things we do inadvertently while communicating. It’s that shifty eye, raised eyebrow, crossed arms, hands in the pockets stuff that is involuntary. Research places the percentage of non-verbal communication between people at any given time at 60-90%.  But what about intuition? Well, for decades we have been trying to fully quantify this phenomenon, but we are still scratching the surface. For those who may not be fully in the know of intuition, here is a simple way of putting it:

Have you ever had that friend, who “needs to talk”? Then, when you go to talk, they tell you everything “is just fine”? And even though their body language and their words are accurate with that statement, you “just know” something is going on?

Bingo! You, my friend, have tapped into INTUITION. We all know it exists, we have TONS of correlations anecdotes on it…but nothing quantifiable or “proven”.

This is what we are missing in an age of distance being perceived as closeness. We are selling ourselves short on the fruits of intimate relationships with others, just for the convenience of a Tweeted “Hello!”.

Social Workers strive to develop relationships with their clients, families, and communities with which they work. Why? Simply put, it is ESSENTIAL to the change process. Now, for those getting all worried, these are professional relationships of which I speak. The Social Work Code of Ethics is very clear on the ideas of romance, conflicts of interest, bias, and personal relationships within the clinical and non-clinical realms…which is: “Don’t do it!!!!!”

When a Social Worker develops a relationship with the client, it is only deep enough to help. However, it does have to be personable and genuine. One cannot fake a relationship and expect change. This will be explained momentarily. It just won’t work. There has to be enough personal connection to foster the ingredients of change, without becoming personally tied to the client. It is an elegant and difficult dance to say the least, but for the professional, it is beautiful.

Genuineness is necessary. Building up a relationship in this context is called RAPPORT. By definition, rapport is a sympathetic understanding between two people; it is based on how those people relate within the context of their relationship. By establishing rapport, the first phase of changing lives begins.

Rapport allows for time so that two people can grow close enough to TRUST one another and place VALUE in each other. Without these ingredients, change will not happen. Does this mean that everyone needs a Social Worker or another person in their lives to change? I’m not saying that. But I am saying that change will not happen without trust and value. If an individual wants to change on their own, they must TRUST themselves and the outcome of that change, as well as place VALUE in themselves and the results of the change process. See how that works?

As a Social Worker, rapport is the medium through which we lay the foundation for change and success.

And who better to model rapport and relational growth after than the Master of Relationships?

Many times in my early church years, I heard the phrase: “Jesus is not religion, he came to abolish religion!”

I will be honest, I didn’t have the slightest clue what the heck that meant. It seemed so very contrary to the reality! Here I am, in a church, learning about God and Christ, but being told that the exact context I am seated in is what He came to end?

Like a bad Twilight Zone episode I tell ya!!! But, I came to understand what was really meant. Just a slight theological tangent here:

At the time of Jesus’ life, many people were locked in unison and begrudgingly rooted in tradition, doctrine, practice, and rules. Their RELIGION was dictating their lives and they were becoming stagnant, turning into automatons. They had lost sight of the entire purpose of their faith: develop spiritual and human relationships to grow in community with one another, for the greater interests and good of the human race. That’s when it hit me, what that aforementioned phrase really meant…Jesus came to bring the relational aspects of human existence back to the faith. For a lot of people, their hurts, habits, negative patterns, and issues become their religion. They inherently create “rules” for themselves and feel that to change would be abandoning their rules and their “religion”. It takes someone to come along and show them otherwise, that they do not have to be burdened and restricted to live a life of good and success.

Jesus understood that for people and communities to change, they had to place trust in Him and His message, as well as value. He knew that the only way for this to happen was to create sympathetic relationships with all the people he interacted with in his crusade for the changes He wanted in people. Jesus knew the necessity of rapport, prior to the next steps of change (which we will discuss in future chapters).

A great example we historically see, of this expert ability in rapport, is Jesus’ so-named “Calling of the 12”. That being the points in time of which he called his 12 Disciples to follow him. Now, I could go through each one of the callings and their respective back stories, but, this is where I encourage the engagement of you all. There is a really cool book, called the Bible, and all kinds of things on the “interwebs” that can guide you in these historical stories…have some fun and read a bit!

(But I digress.)

All of the 12 disciples had a few things in common:

  1. They were all drawn away from their current life contexts in order to follow Christ on a journey of change.
  2. They all, at some point, initially placed trust and value in Jesus enough to actually follow Him.
  3. At points in the journey, trust and value wavered, and had to be re-established and re-affirmed.
  4. The trust and value in Jesus and change reached a point of fullness, and ushered in the next phase of change for them.

All of the disciples initially trusted and valued Jesus, enough to leave their current patterns and get to know the idea of change. Relate this to how people see professionals. When a client or community utilizes a Social Worker, a lot of times, they are putting their trust and value in the credentials. The thought of something like. “Oh! They have a comma and an acronym after their name…they know how to help!” Same thing for the disciples, there was “Son of God” behind Jesus’ name…figuratively speaking of course.

However, at points early on, this trust and value diminished through its honeymoon phase. The disciples would begin to ask questions, challenge their initial trust and value, and ask for clarification as to the purpose and process of which they were now a part of. Throughout some time, Jesus gained their trust and value again, by also placing those things in them. He did this the same way a Social Worker today does it…through rapport.

He was genuine, honest, compassionate, and sympathetic. The perfect cocktail for a strong foundation within a relationship. Through this method, the disciples regained and reaffirmed their trust and value in Jesus and the process they were within. Eventually, these characteristics led them to follow Jesus into the next phase of change: Questioning/Seeking.

We will not touch on that phase in this chapter, but in the next.

Rapport with another person is essential for not only general relationships, but even more so in the relationships in which change is the ultimate goal and desire. Yes, inherently we all change through relationships, but that is not necessarily their main function. But, they do serve as an amazing medium if change is the goal.

Jesus knew this, and he led His time on Earth and work with people with this concept. He developed the change process before even our most brilliant psychologists, Social Workers, and philosophers pin-pointed its existence.

I encourage the expansion of this idea, and ask that you ponder these questions:

Are we really trying to change the world?

If so, do our relationships reflect that goal?

And also, can we look ourselves in the mirror and be genuine with our reflections? If not, can we be genuine with others?

Gauge yourself…where is your Rapport Intelligence at, compared to the Master Social Worker Himself?

Meditate on these thoughts for a while. Then, come hungry for the next installment of the series as we tackle the application of rapport in the next phase of change: Questioning/Seeking

‘Til then, stay blessed everybody! I love you all!

Jesus: Social Worker at Law

In the movie A Few Good Men, there is that one famous scene, which has probably been quoted, nauseatingly, billions of times. For those of you living under a rock and/or younger than 20, here is the basic idea of the scene. Tom Cruise is JAG lawyer and Jack Nicholson plays a general or something and is on trial for some crimes. He is on the stand when things get heated between the characters. Ultimately ending up in the famous exchange of:

Tom Cruise: “I want the truth!!!”

Jack Nicholson: “You can’t handle the truth!!”

Truth…interesting concept right? Some people say and believe (I being one of them) that truth is absolute, objective, and so is everything that falls under it; morality, righteousness, etc. Others, however, may say that truth is subjective, personal, worldly relativistic. Whether or not I or they are correct (which I am…*ahem*…just kidding), it matters not when we look at the idea and purposes of true justice.

Justice the wonderful idea presented by great men and women before us that is supposed to be the ultimate accountability and catalyst for a great and peaceful society. It combines the best of truth and fact with the best interests of all of a community and/or human society within a decision, or conclusions, to place upon that group for their greater survival and success.

Now, we could argue the points of whether or not the Justice system is “flawed”, “broken”, “biased”, etc. But I am not talking about criminal or even civil justice. The sugar in my coffee is Social Justice.

Social Justice is not restricted within courtrooms or trials, though sometimes it is fought for there. It happens everywhere.

It happens in the elementary school when a child stands up for the special needs kid being bullied in the lunchroom. It happens when the male coworker is making a pass at a female employee and Joe Schmo decides to stand up and put him in his sexist place when the female is clearly uncomfortable. Social Justice mainly lies square on the shoulders of US, society.

Social Workers work directly with individuals, communities, families, and other isolated contexts…this is true. However, we do it for the purpose of bringing greater justice to society through various change agents. We fight for the truly oppressed. We listen to the downtrodden and voiceless. We pick up and rise with those who have been sucker punched by the ills of society.

Sure, does some of this justice have to legally work its way out? Of course! Hence things like welfare programs, harm reduction therapies through the penal system, CASA for children in foster care, and many other things. But overall, Social Justice is the goal in which all of Social Work is poised.

This effort is not always pretty, and, to be honest, not always nice. Sometimes it takes saying “No” to a free handout for a family in need, because the last three times they squandered the freebie instead of putting it to wise and righteous use. This is where the truth and best interests of justice meet the road.

in that scenario, and others like it, the fact is that the freebie was ill-used, and what’s best for that family is lessons of wisdom in how to appreciate gifts and use them to grow, instead of utilizing irresponsibility and creating a pattern of dependence. This is why, bottom line, if we are to promote and succeed in Social Justice, there is no place for butterflies and rainbows 24/7. Yes, I mean being politically correct. We have to use both compassion and bold truth. Understand the hurts and hang ups, but be bold enough to hold accountable those that are not wise and are irresponsible. This is the Social Worker’s prerogative in the fight for Social Justice for all of Humankind. And, guess what? Jesus knew this!

Scripture highlights the story of the woman charged with adultery in a town in which jesus was arriving. The Pharisees at the time aimed to test Jesus’ understanding and adherence to the Law of the times they all abided by. But they set him up to entrap him in his character. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t kinda thing. Side with the woman, Jesus clearly didn’t abide by the law that God ordained, thus contradicting his so-called Messianic identity. Side with the Pharisees, Jesus was no better than man and could not be the Messiah. Theology aside, Jesus was in a bit of a pickle. However, his documented response is what shows the First Social Worker do what he does best…deliver Social Justice and work with society.

When the accusations were brought forth of the woman (villagers and pharisees alike with stones in hand most likely, ready for “game time”), Jesus does not respond immediately, but does something strange. He bends down and writes in the sand/dust with his finger. This is speculative, but historically pretty accurate, but Jesus was setting up his success and showing the Pharisees what they were up against. It was against the Law to, as scripture says, write even “two letters” on the Sabbath day of rest. But, it was permissible to write “in/of dust” (depending on translations). This demonstrated that Jesus not only KNEW the Law, but know how it was INTERPRETED. Now he went to work on delivering justice.

(Let’s make a disclaimer here: Jesus at NO TIME defended the woman’s breaking of the Law…never. You will see where I’m going with this.)

So now the Pharisees were in trouble. Jesus began to be the Social Worker. He understood this woman did wrong by committing adultery, which he forgave her, but he ALSO told her to turn from her behaviors and “sin no more”. He held her accountable but also helped protect her and defend Social Justice. He did this by, without going into exhausting quotes, telling the Pharisees and people that “he who is without sin [breaking the Law], cast the first stone”. Do you think anyone cast a stone? Nope. But interestingly, should the Pharisees have been allowed to? We have no record of them committing adultery, ever. So according to the punishment protocol Jesus JUST quoted, they should have been able to aim for the head. But they did not. Why not?!

Ah…the magic of the many hats of a Social Worker and social justice. There is another part of the Law that is not mentioned, but is in play here.You see, when a woman committed adultery, not only was she to be stoned, but so also was the MAN involved with the crime as well. The man was not there, not on trial, just the woman. Without directly “sticking it” to the Pharisees, Jesus called them out. The were breaking the Law by not fully enforcing it. Jesus directly involved himself and uses both the FACTS and TRUTH, along with the BEST INTERESTS of the woman to gain Justice for her and the community around her. Sure, theologically he was saving her should. But historically, Jesus advocated for this woman against the Law by using the Law. Ensuring true justice and truly fair treatment.

Now, the question could be raised of: “What if the Pharisees had brought both the woman and the man to trial before Jesus?”

Let’s put that into current contexts and we will see what the Great Social Worker would’ve probably done. It’s a loose analogy, but remember the principle we are discussing as I outline it.

Take for example the mother who goes into a grocery story and steals the groceries to feed her kids. Easily she would probably rack up $50+ in groceries if she has even just one kid in today’s market. Now, let’s say she goes to trial because this is not the first time she has done it. The court discovers that she did it, clearly, but she has job, or a sugar daddy, or expensive TVs, etc., etc. Then guess what, she’s probably going to jail because she didn’t HAVE to do it and she had other chances before to stop. In that case? Jesus would have said, “Accountability…wise up” most likely…or something along those lines. Because the facts are there and what’s in her best interest is some punishment and learning.

Now, say this is the first time this mother does this. And we learn that she doesn’t get any food stamps, no disability, is homeless, has been denied work, and/or has no access for mental health treatment. Well, she was in survival mode. However, she did break the law, theft. But does she deserve the full extent of punishment? Not at all, because it is not in her BEST interest. But she does deserve some accountability for willingly acting negatively. And these cases have and do happen. Most of the time, some community service and a small fine result. ALONG with an advocate to help, so the act does not happen again. THIS is what Jesus would have done as well! Fought for TRUE social justice!

See? We can righteously judge others! Jesus demonstrated and advocated for righteous judgment of our fellow men and women. But the key word is righteously. He did it first and told us to continue. Look at the facts and the truth of the situation, act in accountability; but also see what’s BEST in the interest of that situation and choose what behaviors will lead to the best outcome and achieve true Social Justice.

Jesus was the model. Now is the time to act like Him. Stand up for right and best for others, but allow for all wrongs to disappear.

Be change agents people…may this world know what true justice and joy look like.

“Fractalized” Profession

At one point or another, you may have been exposed to Fractals. Simply put, they are images and/or shapes that self-repeat over an infinity of scales. Even simpler: as you zoom in, the pattern and image repeats itself, over and over again…to infinite “zooms”. For the nerds out there, think of Sierpinski’s Triangle.

They are beautiful yet complex images. Works of mathematical art that are nearly beyond comprehension. It’s almost impossible to acknowledge the reality of their existence, yet just as impossible to deny their impact on the souls and minds that encounter them. Feelings of confusion, awe, wonderment, and peace simultaneously are elicited.

But there is more to these things than just repetition and sameness. In fact, I dare say that they are an artistic and scientific metaphor that expresses the philosophy of the human life and experience. Each part that is zoomed in on is no more than a tiny piece in the larger picture…pieces that go on for eternity, yet the same image is always created; much like people within the human experience…which begins to scratch the surface of Social Work.

In 1889, a (as we Social Workers like to see it) revolution began in the 19th Ward of Chicago. At the time, many immigrants were settling in the area and facing many struggles, not so different from the impoverished of our current society. But, along came a woman who had not an idea, but rather and approach and delivery. Jane Addams began Hull House in that year. Specifically, it catered to women and children. You see, the idea was a safe place for struggling mothers and children to go for shelter, safety, and basic needs. This was just a boring idea, because it wasn’t the first of its kind. These places and orphanages and things existed for long periods of time before the turn of the 20th century. So why was it different? Why a revolution? The answer is in the approach, and the delivery. Jane Addams started a kindergarten within the home. Allowing for children to learn and grow, while the mothers could do the same with one another. Lecturers were brought in for the older children to go deeper in academia, or become involved with the community and jobs. Eventually, the services opened to the community; adding a teen boys club, and sewing and cooking classes for young girls. These were just a few things different, with many more developing over time.

It is quite simple. What made Hull House amazing and awe-inspiring was not the main image. That image was a great thing, don’t get me wrong. But it was the smaller parts that one zoomed in on that made it inspiring and full of wonder. This is what took Jane Addams from being another person doing societal good, to being a Social Worker…letting her character, passions, and skills be an open book and applying them beyond the normal, yet remain “in plain sight”. Look deeper at the Hull House Fractal and you’ll see:

The kindergarten didn’t just educate and baby sit kids…its gave mothers a chance to grow in community and thus be more motivated and stress free to raise their families and contribute to society.

The classes for girls and club for boys allowed growing young adults to understand their (at the time period) greatest strengths and attributions, and how THEY could help their world and others’.

The community involvement created symbiotic relationships to strengthen the backbone of any long-lasting civilization…the meeting of the inspired and the inspiring, to foster innovation and success for generations to come.

ALL of these things being underlying solutions to the larger struggles these people faced!

See?! This is one of the foundations of Social Work! Be obvious so that people know your intentions and will support your work, but be more than something plainly seen, and let the works around you leave observers in awe…the works serving as an extension of your character and your heart…for the greater good of this world.

Now the fun part! These points, factors, principles, whatever you want to call them, were happening almost 1900 years before Jane Addams. The person acting upon the concepts was the original Social Worker. Jesus came and changed lives and the world for the better. And he did this as a man amongst you and me.

I promised I would not go too Bible-Preachy in this series, and I am a man of my word. But the Bible does a great job, at the VERY least of recording accurate happenings of the man Jesus Christ. Just a disclaimer for future posts.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he was known as many things: teacher, minister, theologian, wise man, counselor, philosopher, etc., etc. Now, this is me putting some modern language to his actions and the anecdotes of actions, but they are still accurate. Now, nowhere did I state the “title” Social Worker. Why? At that time, it didn’t exist. In fact, I would posit that society at the time would find an all-encompassing title for a persons multiple titles completely absurd and irrational. But again, I digress.

The point is, Jesus was much more than the surface of his actions, or the observations of them. The main image of his fractal was that of a world shaker and a world changer. But go deeper…see the repetition…see the similarities of the tiny pieces, and see how they may look the same, but they are not in the same place. This is the MAIN point! Though His actions were similar, repetitive, it was their location that was important. And by location I am speaking metaphorically of course. Each similar act was in a new place, with a new person or group, in a new time…all working together to create the larger image.

Social work is just that! The same basic principles, actions, modalities, philosophies, cycling over and over into infinity…yet in different places, with different people, at different times. Thus creating a simplistically sophisticated image of love, hope, inspiration, and strength. How does this happen? We will get there…we will begin to travel down the tenants and practices of  Social Work each new post…until the picture becomes clear.

But, all of it will continue to point to Jesus…and how He was the true one to begin, maintain, and perpetuate this profession.

This was just the tip of the iceberg, y’all…as we continue through the maze, it gets more challenging yet more satisfying.

I continue to hope and pray that lives are changed for the better and that the writings will serve as provocateurs of the mind.

Until the next episode: Continue the engagement, continue the thinking, and as always…continue to be Blessed my friends!

Discipline Comes Only Through Patience and Commitment 

One question is, unfortunately, the same every year for this generation: How are they so unproductive and fruitless compared to previous generations?
Us millennials are labeled some unsavory things. Now, granted, a lot of expression, creativity, media, art, innovation, etc. has been generated by our generation. However, those things are not benefitting us or our families (if we have any) in the long-term; speaking in generalities and in a specific context of course. Bear with me, I will explain.

The cries to have more free stuff, entitlements, and privileges just because we breathe have increased exponentially. Why? Well, I have my theories, but I would rather use some research and laymen’s understanding to drive the nail home.

WE…ARE…LESS…RESPONSIBLE…DISCIPLINED…AND MOTIVATED.

Statistically speaking, we marry later, have less children (if any at all), live for the now and our happiness, are less committed to long term gains, and extremely impatient. These things are based on my aforementioned notions on the cries of this generation.

How do these things look? Well, we have more of us living at home with our parents for longer than any previous generation. And this is surprisingly not only, if at all strongly, correlated with finances. The millennial generation actually has less unsecured debt than one would assume. A lot of it is apathy; not wanting to make a way for ourselves. We also get married later and have less kids, if any at all. We place instant gratification above long term goals. And we want everything how we want it, when we want it, and where we want it…and if we don’t get it, it’s somebody else’s fault (the government, the patriarchy, the economy, etc., etc.).

What we need to do is take lessons from our elders, and those that came before us. Because, believe it or not, traditional values and mentalities really do pay off and benefit society more. Patience and commitment are essential to discipline; and they lead to prosperity, security, and legacy.

Be committed to saving early and saving often. Don’t make stupid debt decisions so you can take that trip to Barcelona at 23 years old to “experience culture and be happy.” There is time for these things. Be wise. Learn financial basics and don’t think retirement is great if you don’t start planning for it. If you have no money and are 65 years old, I can tell you it’s not a pleasant life. As a healthcare professional, I have seen what happens to the elderly (and their loved ones) who have no nest egg and only Medicare.

Again, I will spare some of the deep numbers and research, but will give the basic truths:

1) I struggled with this too, and am still working out of poor decisions I made in the past…but they were MY decisions and I OWN them, and their consequences.

2) Change your family tree for generations to come by committing to wise financial and life decisions early. Don’t shy away from buying that house when you are financially and emotionally ready…that’s an investment that (if done wisely) gains in value over time. Start a retirement fund! Seriously, with “average/likely” gains, $120 with company match per month could quite possibly give you $500k at 65 (if you start at 25), and will last until 85-90 years old (on $4000 per month living expenses). Invest more, and you’ll have more! If you don’t use all of it, and the investments grow and you add to them THROUGHOUT retirement, you could leave over $3M in assets to your family when you pass.

3) BE PATIENT! Get married (or don’t), have kids (or don’t), but ALWAYS handle the boring and sacrificial things NOW, so you can live for ALL OF LATER. Spend your early and mid-20’s staying out of debt, working ridiculously, growing your salary, and starting investing. Then, come 30-ish, know that you are close (if not already there) to stable, debt free, having a long term career established (not to be confused with job), and beginning to plan your travels with all that vacation time you’re earning and the joy of being stable in your finances!

4) Understand that being impulsive and spontaneous are two DIFFERENT things. Spontaneity is controlled and thought out, drastic change/action. Impulse is naïve and emotionally based.

5) Remember: the only decision that’s RIGHT for you, is the one YOU make; but so is the RESPONSIBILITY and CONSEQUENCES.