Bringing it Back Down to Reality…Sort Of

I know what you’re thinking. Dear Magic California Roll, not another philosophical post. Please make it stop. But this one is different! I promise. I’m leaving the world of high philosophy and returning to world of getting shit done. Or at least the world of how shit gets done. By people with privilege. Okay, I lied, its another philosophical post. But I tried and that must count for something right?

Working towards social justice (however defined) can be tricky business if (like me) you’re swimming in a boatload of privilege. The problem is that oftentimes when we try to *help* someone, we end up doing what we think is best for them in the way we prefer rather than what *they* think is best for themselves in the way they prefer.

I saw this most profoundly when I was young. Each summer I was required (as part of the Christian sect I belonged to) to volunteer with various chartable organizations. One summer my parents thought it would be an “object lesson” to send to me volunteer at what was called “a home for unwed mothers” but was really where pregnant teenagers were sent to give birth. The young women there were given a room and food (often after being turned out of their own homes for becoming pregnant), but only if they “repented.” Repentance to the sect I belonged to meant humiliating “confessions” to the full congregation of everything they’d done; admitting that they were sinful, disgusting and weak; giving birth even if they preferred otherwise; and giving their child to a “good” Christian family that would prevent that child from repeating the same “mistake.” These homes may have provided basic necessities, but they in no sense *helped* the women unfortunate enough to walk through their doors.

Let me clear, the social organizations I work with today are miles apart from that hellhole.

And yet. I still see the same worrisome perspective. We’ll help, if you accept drug treatment. We’ll help, if you seek counseling. We’ll help, if you choose to leave your abusive partner. We’ll help, if you go back to stay with a blood relative. There are conditions on giving people access to the bare necessities of life and those conditions are connected to what the privileged people in charge think are *best* for those in dire need.

In post last week, Jadey quoted Rachel Naomi Remen’s notion of “fixing” from In the Service of Life:

When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them…There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing. Fixing is a form of judgment.

I don’t think we are seeking justice and equality when we attempt to *fix* one another. Instead, I think we need to radically alter our institutions of social justice to listen to people who are asking for assistance, to meet their needs as they define them, and to meet those needs in the way that respects their perspective.

Failing to listen. Believing we *know* what people are asking for can be oppressive. My first DV case as a lawyer is illustrative of the damage you can cause. A woman came into the clinic covered in obvious bruises with a broken arm. When she told me what had happened I was full of righteous anger. I had internally begun to outline the case for a TRO, divorce, and custody hearing in my head. But that wasn’t what she wanted. She wasn’t ready to leave her partner. She almost walked out of my office without receiving the help she *needed* because I was too much of an ass to stop and listen.

Meeting needs as they define them. She needed a bank account that was not traceable to her. She’d spoken with several other people at the legal clinic and a few people at a couple of different banks, but everyone had tried to convince her that it didn’t *need* to be untraceable – there were bank privacy laws. They failed to respect her understanding of her own needs.

Respecting their perspective. This to me is the most radical shift in how most organizations do social justice. Its most noticeable where clients have an entirely different perspective from my own. For example another DV client did not think her husband was a bad person and she didn’t want her daughter to hear horrible things about him. When we were preparing the divorce papers, she asked for a no-fault divorce and sealed custody record. I respected her perspective and refrained from saying anything about the abuse she suffered during her marriage even when it would have been beneficial in negotiations over spousal support. Her perspective was paramount even when it contradicted my own.

Its hard even in the context of trying to make the world a better place to unpack that invisible knapsack and see where we’re imposing our own perspective on others in a way that oppressive. I think skepticism/fallibilism helps and points to these three ways in which people (myself included) are sometimes doing it wrong or could be doing better. What do you guys think? Are there more items you’d add? Am I completely wrong? Are you tired of philosophical bullshit and just want me to post pictures of Chi already?

Chi on the sofa next to M looking distinctly uninterested.

I am entirely uninterested in whatever it is you are talking about. Excuse me while I cuddle.

(The clients mentioned here as well as in any other posts I put up have consented to the use of their stories sans any confidential information).

Author: has written 23 posts for this blog.

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30 Responses

  1. karak
    karak August 18, 2011 at 1:26 am |

    I used to work with people who were profoundly retarded. And there were things they NEEDED, like to be clean and fed and safe, and what they REQUIRED, like choice and entertainment and freedom. And there was this constant, brutal war between clients, staff, bureaucracy, guardians, and the state.

    That experience has made me very mindful of the “why” of doing things, and to always fight the good fight to keep the client first, including fighting that battle in myself.

  2. Dawn
    Dawn August 18, 2011 at 1:54 am |

    Many organizations do this, they talk about choice, but really it boils down to “We do X, your choice is take it or leave it” and often X is completely inappropriate.

    Such a lack of choice costs in terms of people’s health and economic well being. I don’t understand why anyone would think that offering only the option of paying thousands for something inappropriate is somehow better than the option to pay for cheaper appropriate care, yet I’ve seen it happen countless times.

    So we end up with situations where people spend time in hospital because the support they need is not available. That takes up beds which doesn’t help anyone and if you’re somewhere that doesn’t have a national health service, you end up paying through the nose for care, when having the support available would be a lot cheaper and easier on everyone.

    That said, sometimes people want things that are bad for them and think they need it, and often people don’t want to give them something they know is bad for them. So really it’s a choice between giving choice to everyone and perhaps participating in something that hurts someone or denying choice to everyone and definitely hurting people. The former would seem to be the better decision.

  3. matlun
    matlun August 18, 2011 at 1:57 am |

    “Its hard even in the context of trying to make the world a better place to unpack that invisible knapsack and see where we’re imposing our own perspective on others in a way that oppressive.”

    This is very true.
    But surely there can be situations where we should try to impose our perspective?
    As I see it the challenge is keeping this balancing act and recognizing when more forceful intervention (ie imposing your view) is appropriate.

  4. matlun
    matlun August 18, 2011 at 2:58 am |

    I find this post interesting because I have had a somewhat different interpretation of the addressed problems.

    I have seen this as a matter of objectification. The victims are seen merely as the objects of the activism/charity and are denied independent agency.

  5. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes August 18, 2011 at 7:17 am |

    I don’t think we are seeking justice and equality when we attempt to *fix* one another. Instead, I think we need to radically alter our institutions of social justice to listen to people who are asking for assistance, to meet their needs as they define them, and to meet those needs in the way that respects their perspective.

    This is almost exactly what annoys me these days about Coldplay’s “Fix You”, and prompted me to write a parody version as a retort.

    This whole post reminde dme of the old joke:

    Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
    A: Just one, but the light bulb has to really want to change!

    Help of the wrong kind will be resisted and, even if it would do good, it won’t work until the person is ready to receive it. I sometimes think it’s like being asked for directions to a place, and instead of giving directions from where the other person is now, you give directions from if they were a couple of turnings further along (or further back) in their journey. Chances are, they’ll end up somewhere completely different and much less useful to them.

  6. AtheistChick
    AtheistChick August 18, 2011 at 7:19 am |

    Excellent post and a relevant topic. I was recently hired by a family guidance center, and during the 4 days of orientation that I have had so far, there’s been a lot of discussion about the mental health service consumer’s choices and input. So, although i have seen many mental health facilities where the consumer has little input, I am happy to see some other organizations moving to the person-centered model.

    I think that service providers just need to find a balance between what the consumer/client wants and what the provider thinks the consumer could benefit from. Of course, in the end, I think the consumer’s choice should be respected even if it conflicts with others’ opinions about what ze needs.

  7. Maia
    Maia August 18, 2011 at 7:23 am |

    Thanks for writing this – I think it’s a really interesting thing to explore the different ways of approaching it.

    I recognise the situation that you describe. I’ve been in the position when it was the last thing I wanted – I didn’t want a situation where I was meeting other people’s needs – I wanted a situation of reciprocity and mutuality and working together. This is incidental to the rest of my argument (but also I think entirely bound up in my argument) – but everytime I’ve taken that role it’s done me damage.

    I don’t think we are seeking justice and equality when we attempt to *fix* one another. Instead, I think we need to radically alter our institutions of social justice to listen to people who are asking for assistance, to meet their needs as they define them, and to meet those needs in the way that respects their perspective.

    I agree with the first part of this, but disagree with the solution. In the end it’s still a situation of people whose needs are being met, and the meeter of needs (as Matlun says and I’ll get round to a subject and an object). There are other ways of organising.

    The fundamental idea of unionism is an idea that says that we serve our collective interests by working together. That one person is not responsible for meeting others needs, but through collectivity we can all meet the needs we identify at hte workplace (I’ll be first to acknowledge that unions don’t always, or maybe often work like that, but it doesn’t make it any less of an important principle). That idea is not unique, obviously, the idea that collective organising by people facing similar oppression is the basis for challenging that oppression.

    I’m not denying the importance of the work you do. It is a role that needs to be filled, and you have demonstrated the importance of it being fulfilled well, rather than badly. However, I do believe that the model you describe is always going to be limited – it may provide some social justice – it’s not working towards liberation.

    I know this goes against common beliefs amongst many feminist bloggers (and one day I’ll write down what I think in more depth – but for now this crash version will have to do) – but I think starting your political analysis with your own privilege is problematic. I think the strongest starting point is understanding your own oppression – and from that realise you are not fighting on behalf of other people – but with them. To give a really simplified example the first politics I was involved in was as a student about the privatisation of education. I started from a point of someone fighting for what I valued about an institution, then those of us involved realised that our struggle was connected with lecturers, then other workers, and people on social welfare benefits. Slowly from there outwards, over a course of quite a few years I internalised more and more the genuine connectedness of both oppression and resistance. What was notable in this is you are silent about your own oppression. You don’t draw any connections between the work you are doing at your own life. It is something you are doing for someone else.

    I think I agree with matlun this is a matter of objectification (I’m a little obsessed subject/object issues in political activism). Liberationary politics, for me, means that you see yourself as a subject of both liberation and oppression, and you see everyone else as a subject as well, and work in ways that allow – rather than set up some people to meet other people’s needs.

  8. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 18, 2011 at 7:56 am |

    Liberationary politics, for me, means that you see yourself as a subject of both liberation and oppression, and you see everyone else as a subject as well, and work in ways that allow – rather than set up some people to meet other people’s needs.


    And let’s face it, the objectification occurs not just because of the original gap in power between the agent and the client, but because of other intersecting identities they have. The system of “fixing” is such that the agent doing the “fixing” has to be invested in the idea that zie doesn’t labor under any oppressions hirself—because the assumption is that if one is oppressed, one is powerless (or ineffective. or not intelligent enough to understand, or….pick your poison).

    I really appreciated the example of the domestic violence survivors knowing exactly what they needed, even though it conflicted with “standard” advice. They were clearly situating their needs in the moment and making them applicable to their lives. The “standard” advice of bank privacy regulations is inapplicable when the woman knows in reality, that marital relationships are privileged, and that husbands are privileged over wives—thus rendering the regulations moot. Her husband would find her account if it was traceable to her name or social security number. Some domestic violence workers would say that this woman “wasn’t ready to be helped” or “hadn’t come to terms with her situation”….despite the clarity of her game plan—she was taking an important first step in her already-realized escape plan—-that of saving money for the day of escape.

    Shit like this happens all the time. People’s own needs aren’t taken seriously by those with the power to assist. Sometimes because those needs aren’t recognized, and sometimes because those needs are dismissed outright.

  9. matlun
    matlun August 18, 2011 at 8:00 am |

    @Kristen J: I agree, but the “unless it bumps up against the harms principle” can be quite tricky to judge.

    The DV situations are perhaps the clearest example of this problematic balancing act. We also need to consider not only the principled position (“We should respect her decision to stay with her abuser”) but also the tactical, pragmatic one (“She is making a huge mistake in staying, but for now we should not confront her too aggressively with this, since that will only alienate her”).

    I certainly do not have the answers on how to draw the line here. I have been the outsider trying to help in the DV scenario myself, and I would say I largely failed (she later left him on her own, but I do not think I helped a lot). I have been looking back at this and been second guessing myself a lot, and I am still not clear on how I should have handled the situation.

  10. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 18, 2011 at 8:04 am |

    Kristen, I’ve really been enjoying your posts. And ITA–not only is lecturing people on what they need to do or have to do–not only is “fixing” them–destructive, it (as LaLubu pointed out) often gets in the way of that person helping themselves. They know best what would work for them.

  11. Mitsy
    Mitsy August 18, 2011 at 9:22 am |

    “These homes may have provided basic necessities, but they in no sense *helped* the women unfortunate enough to walk through their doors.”

    Wow, go fuck yourself. So, just because their values were not YOUR values (or lack thereof), they might as well have taken their food, shelter and medical care and shoved it up their collective asses, right? What you don’t understand is, and I doubt you understand very much because you don’t seem particularly intelligent (or as intelligent as you imagine yourself to be), that when people come to others for help they are BEHOLDEN. Remember what it was like living with Mommy and Daddy? Their house, their rules. It’s a simple concept. Hopefully you can grasp it, harpie.

  12. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin August 18, 2011 at 10:12 am |

    Two branches of Quakerism are very big on missionary work. They have particularly made substantial strides in Kenya. Their work in bringing Christ to the native peoples has produced an interesting statistic. There are now more Friends in Kenya than in the whole of North America.

    I have never been entirely comfortable with this practice. There does seem to be a quid pro quo arrangement in all the best intentions.

    But one doesn’t have to look only to Africa to see this. It’s true with many Christian denominations. An offer of help comes with strings attached. A Friend I know well grew up this way and has been suspicious of those who wanted to reach out for years. She has been self-sufficient to a fault because she is so afraid of reaching out for help when she needs it.

  13. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 18, 2011 at 10:41 am |

    matlun, I’m a DV survivor, and one of the most maddening things I found about being in that situation is the stereotypes foisted upon people experiencing DV. Stereotypes such as, “Stockholm syndrome”, some-version-or-another of being weak-willed/having no emotional strength, being physically weak, being uneducated or unable to articulate one’s own thoughts or position, having bought into sexist tropes about a “woman’s place” (for heterosexual people), being sociopolitically conservative, giving primacy to other identities (ethnic, religious, cultural, personal) over one’s own safety….

    …it’s somewhat similar to the stereotypes surrounding rape victims. In other words, every singular instance where the stereotype may be true is heavily outweighed (exponentially so) by instances where it is not. The plurality of experiences are ignored in favor of convenient untruths that provide comfort for the folks not experiencing these troubles….like a protective balm (“can’t happen to me”).

    If there’s one generality I would make about us survivors, it is this: we do not trust authority figures. Our previous experiences with authority has been that of abuse, neglect or dismissal. We know *exactly* where we stand within the kyriarchy, and are already keenly self-protective by any means necessary—and how effective we are relates directly to our resources.

    Like the women Kristen J. describes, I had a game plan for my escape, too. It fit within my resources, my ability to execute, and fit within the larger goals of my life. Had I communicated this game plan to a domestic violence worker, I would have been told how unrealistic I was being; how my physical safety needed to take precedence over my economic self-sufficiency (translation: I was unwilling to give up my job, period, exclamation point; and I was determined to not jeapordize my employment by risking my abusive husband showing up at work—my apprenticeship was not *just a job*, but my *career*). In the meantime, I would have had an extremely difficult time proving that he hit me, since he didn’t punch me in the face—so, like a lot of rape survivors, I would not have been able to “prove it.” Add in some other problematic intersecting identities, and……well, I knew I was on my own. It wasn’t that I *wanted* to not have assistance, I knew that in the time and place *where* I was, combined with *who* I was, I did not have access to any of the assistance I could have used.

    This isn’t just a feature of help-with-morally-fraught problems, either. I’m a working class single mother whose daughter has an IEP. She’s entering a new school now (middle school, from elementary) which means I have to gear up for another round of proving myself, and advocating for her so her intelligence and ambition isn’t written off due to her LD. The stereotypes enter the room before we do (last year, I requested that the good folks working with us at the last school put in a good word, as I hated the rigamarole of being pathologized. One woman present at the meeting made a sotto-voce comment to another, “Pathologize? That’s a big word.” I looked at her hard and made a joke out of it….but, this is what happens. Just to be clear).

    We’re all familiar with the routine dismissal of women’s medical concerns, right? Well….trust that the dismissal rate does not improve as you age. I’ve been battling for a year to get my hypothyroid adequately treated (ever since my endocrinologist released me, saying that all I needed was a general physician to keep up the protocol…..*right*, like finding one of those is easy….)

    Hence….”bringing it back down to reality.” It begins with *listening* and *paying attention*.

  14. matlun
    matlun August 18, 2011 at 11:06 am |

    @La Lubu. I am sorry to hear about your history and happy that you seem to have managed to get out of that situation.

    But the refusal to admit to an existing problem is very common in both DV and many addiction cases. In the case I was referring to, she did in fact have an available exit since she was in a privileged position and also had a family more than willing to take her in. It can still be hard.

    When it comes to DV, I really liked Autumn’s “I Can Handle It” post. It resonated with my experience (though from the other side).

    And as I said: I did not then and do not now know how these types of situations should ideally be handled.

  15. Brigid
    Brigid August 18, 2011 at 11:28 am |

    Kristen J, I agree that this is a huge problem in “helping,” where the person doing the helping has (almost by definition?) boatloads of privilege along exactly the axes in which the helpee needs help.

    Maia: I think the strongest starting point is understanding your own oppression – and from that realise you are not fighting on behalf of other people – but with them.

    I think this helps, but for me it’s kind of abstract. I do try to adopt a mindset of “fighting with” rather than “fighting on behalf,” but sometimes that still leaves me stumped as to how to best fight in the moment, you know? And there are times when I think I need to acknowledge that I can’t “fight with,” because I don’t experience all kinds of oppression.

    For example, I’m a white American and I fight racism. And it’s very important to me to recognize that fighting racism helps everybody, that the world will be better for everyone, including those with racial privilege, to dismantle racism. Still, there are times when adopting a “fighting-with” stance with regards to racism just feels…presumptuous. Because when it comes to individual incidences of racism, sometimes it’s just not my fight. And it seems like privilege-denial to act like it is.

    I’m glad matlun brought up Autumn’s “I Can Handle It” post, because it provides a concrete example of where the helping/imposing question can get sticky. Even if I approach domestic violence with a “fighting-with” mindset, how should I decide what is the right way to fight DV with my (hypothetical) friend who is experiencing, but in denial, of it?

  16. Dawn
    Dawn August 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |


    Nobody was ever helped by slut-shaming, enforcing religious morals on them and demanding they be grateful for being forced to depend on charity, abuse themselves and forcibly having their child taken from them because they dared to have sex or worse were forced and are the ones left holding the baby because they couldn’t or didn’t have the choice to use contraception.

    Kristen is right, and I think your comment represents the “help” that folks least want and what does least to actually help them.

  17. Jenna
    Jenna August 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm |

    When I was confined in a psychiatric hospital, staff constantly told me, “Come to us if you want to hurt yourself.” I even made it my “goal” one day, but I never came to them until after I had self-harmed. This frustrated them to no end. They only wanted to help, they insisted.

    But I knew and had seen that if I came to them and said, “I want to hurt myself,” they would spring into action. They wouldn’t say, “Well, what do YOU want us to help you with about it?” They just put their “protocols” into place, which was to watch me constantly, ask me constantly if I felt safe, and otherwise control me more in an environment that was already suffocating.

    What’s more, they were strangers. I knew how my parents would react: They would be sad, and ask if I maybe wanted to go somewhere with them to distract myself. But these strangers only knew about me what was written in my chart, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a psychiatric chart, but it’s not flattering. It’s every twitch, grimace, smile, laugh, word put down and screened through pathology. I was just a “manipulative” patient to them, another obstacle, not a person. Under their care, I was manhandled, medicated, frightened, and confined.

    When I was discharged, I vowed to become a nurse, and I said to them rather symbolically, “I’ll come back here, but only as staff. Never as a patient.” They laughed me off.

    I’ll never actually go back to that hospital. Too many awful memories. But I will go out and my experiences will make me listen to people. I will have so much power, more than people realize, and all I want to do is do good with it.

    And you hit the nail on the head, OP. It’s about listening.

  18. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm |

    matlun, re: refusing to admit to an existing problem….

    See, here’s where it gets complicated; meaning: it’s not complicated at all, if one is *listening to* and more importantly, *respecting* the person speaking…the complications arise from too many people doing faux-listening and bringing their own assumptions and perspective into the mix, leaving the speaker in the position of “proving” or justifying hirself, spending precious energy on both asserting hir human dignity and assuaging the emotional reaction of the faux-listener.

    At no time did I ever believe that my ex-husband’s verbal, emotional or physical violence toward me was my fault, or contributed to in any way by my actions. I always believed it was solely his choice, and an attempt to demean and control me; that it was motivated by arrested development on his part and enabled by his drinking. But that’s not the standard line foisted upon DV survivors…..we get to hear how we’re part of a “dynamic of abuse”, and somehow complicit if we (for whatever reason) don’t or can’t immediately leave.

    There were many things complicating my exit. For one thing, I was married, and thus felt an obligation to attend counseling sessions to give him the opportunity to make amends and correct the underlying issues he had that led to his abusive behavior. When that failed, I was already mentally ready to leave. I had already made the decision to do so (like the woman seeking the untraceable bank account). It was the logistics of doing so that made me “stay” as long as I did.

    Logistical issues included: paychecks that left little disposable income for squirreling away two months rent plus safety deposit, needing to buy a reliable vehicle for my job (public transportation doesn’t work for the construction trades) first, saving up enough money for the divorce (which could have—but eventually didn’t—mean contesting an alimony claim on his part…..we had no children and owned no property, but he refused to work after I got into the apprenticeship), needing to stay in the geographic jurisdiction of my Local to stay in the apprenticeship, needing to keep any and all drama he would bring away from my jobsites so I wouldn’t get fired or disciplined by the apprenticeship committee (this is not a concern *now*, in my Local. Things have changed a great deal for women since I ran the gauntlet), needing to keep both myself and people in my extended family safe, not being able to rely on the police (in my city, the DV practice is to arrest everyone who hits, even a 120 lb woman defending herself against her 220-some-lb husband. Fighting back de-escalated the violence in my household, but it also left me vulnerable to arrest and that would have *definitely* impacted my job…..

    So in the meantime, while preparing and executing the steps of my escape plan, I had a number of work-arounds. Like all DV survivors do. What I really could have used at that time; what would have made my exit faster: making apprenticeships transferrable between Locals, stronger enforcement of orders of protection, keeping DV reports out of the “police beat” section of the newspaper (where they function as entertainment for bystanders and shaming devices for the survivors), secure housing for DV survivors that is paid for by the survivors but doesn’t require a safety deposit or two months rent in advance, employment law that specifically prohibits employers from firing or disciplining employees whose abusive SO’s show up on the job and do damage…..and the assumption of human dignity and my own damn agency. I could have left a hell of a lot sooner had that assistance been available. But it wasn’t, and so I did the best I could with the resources I had.

    Yeah, technically, I could have quit the apprenticeship and returned to the dysfunctional home of my childhood—my folks wouldn’t have turned me away. But….their home wasn’t emotionally healthy, and there was no job opportunity there (and that prediction played out bigtime—it’s one of the uglier cesspools of rust belt degradation in Illinois for its weight class). Despite not “just” leaving, I made it out with the best possible outcome.

  19. matlun
    matlun August 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm |

    @La Lubu: Please do not feel that I was criticizing you. It was not meant that way at all.

    You are right that sometimes just leaving is not the obviously correct and easy solution. It depends on the severity of the abuse and the other details of the individual case. If you do not have a social or economic support system in place it might be very difficult.

    My and your experiences might be of two very different situations.

  20. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm |

    I didn’t take it as criticism, but thought I’d use the opportunity to illustrate to any readers just what “logistics” means. Because, every time the subject of DV comes up in a feminist blog, there is always, always the iteration of “why did/does she stay?” And the most obvious, straight-out-the-gate reason is…..what good does it do her to leave, when he knows he can find her at work? I mean….isn’t that patently obvious? Especially since it’s widely known that nothing rapidly, dramatically escalates the level of violence like *leaving*?

    I don’t know that my situation isn’t fairly representative of DV. Few people have enough privilege that they can come up with two months’ rent and a security deposit on a dime. Few people have enough privilege that they can afford secure housing. Most folks are fairly vulnerable at their place of employment, and/or have limited ability to restructure their routine in an effective manner. It’s more common than not to live some distance away from family, and to not have a social support system of friends built up yet in one’s new environs (after moving away from one’s home—all previous friends are scattered in different locations also).

    And even people who do have some or all of those privileges can end up dead. Just sayin’.

    Monday morning quarterbacking the efforts of people in struggle *adds to* their net burden of struggle. And frankly….most of the folks’ doing the MMQing have nowhere near the level of intimacy necessary to be helpful in the first place.

  21. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson August 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm |

    This gets to the whole What’s The Matter With Kansas thing. Most social programs are created with a city in mind (I’m thinking specifically about housing and schooling), but they often don’t work the same way in a rural environment. So it’s not so crazy to oppose gov’t spending on things that can’t help your neighbors. *

    *I’ve wholly lifted this concept from stuff I’ve hard my spouse say, for the record.

  22. Jadey
    Jadey August 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm |

    Sara Anderson:
    This gets to the whole What’s The Matter With Kansas thing.Most social programs are created with a city in mind (I’m thinking specifically about housing and schooling), but they often don’t work the same way in a rural environment.So it’s not so crazy to oppose gov’t spending on things that can’t help your neighbors. *

    *I’ve wholly lifted this concept from stuff I’ve hard my spouse say, for the record.

    I’ve been starting to work in program development and evaluation, and all I can say is thank god that the field is already embracing something like utilization-focused evaluation, which is like the client-centered approach to therapy, only with organizations. There is no point swooping in and saying, as an evaluator, “No, no, no, this is how you should be running your program!”, or “This is what I think you need so that’s what I’m going to do!”, because no one will listen to you and even if you do amazing work, your report will just get shelved (or thrown out!).

    It’s really important to meet people where they are at. Even if sometimes when you get there you may present certain options to them that haven’t considered (providing that they’re open to alternative perspectives, which honestly some people aren’t and for good reasons, like already being at the end of their rope), you cannot force an opinion on someone for “their own good” and have any hope of truly helping them. At best, you alienate them completely – at worst, you make them dependent on you. The latter is something that I’ve seen some people be very attached to – I once worked (extremely briefly) for a woman who, under the guise of being extremely helpful and self-sacrificing, made it impossible for anyone to learn how to do their jobs because she always stepped in and took over whenever anyone asked a question, at the cost of both her responsibilities and theirs. For her, I think the benefit was feeling indispensable and needed, and it was incredibly destructive. Very frustrating.

  23. LongHairedWeirdo
    LongHairedWeirdo August 19, 2011 at 3:11 am |

    It’s an interesting idea.

    But I also recognize some of the complications. A homeless shelter is reasonable in saying “you can stay, but you can’t use (drugs or alcohol) while staying here.” On the one hand, yeah, drugs and alcohol in forced-close-proximity is bad. On the other, it’s saying “hey, sleep out in the cold if you don’t like it.” And addictions aren’t called addictions because they’re easy to kick.

    On the gripping hand, no one is going to make any change that’s positive until it’s their time to change. If you(generic) try to decide for someone when the right time is, at best, you’re setting both of you up for failure and frustration. And that is assuming that you(generic) are correct that the change is a positive one in the current context.

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