“I’ve never seen anyone in the system with ugly handwriting like you.” I don’t know quite what to say when a client makes this happy observation. “I feel better, because I have ugly handwriting too.” Actually this clients handwriting is better than mine, by more than a little.
The ‘system’ here makes up all the case managers, service providers, paroling authority and prison system, nonprofits,welfare agency employees, churches, and counselors that this particular client has received care from, or reached out to, in the last few years of her life. Out of all those people I have the worst handwriting. And that seems to help.
Now don’t get me wrong, my handwriting is mostly legible, unless I am stressed, or tired, or in a hurry, or writing a lot…. Ok, maybe its more like barely legible. But other than my number 4’s, I rarely get asked what it is I wrote. It gets the job done.
But why would someone not only notice it, but point it out with a smile?
The ‘system’ is not replete with opportunities to build self esteem. A client is not generally encouraged to feel equal with the person on the other side of the desk. Many people are made to feel guilty, ashamed, worthless, when seeking or being assigned services. Our culture does not look on need with compassion, but with contempt, and annoyance. People who need must deserve it, and if they deserve what they are going through they certainly don’t deserve my respect. Its doubly worse for offenders, because while its not difficult to see that crime is a symptom, not a cause of trauma and poverty, it’s easier and more satisfying for Americans to lay blame. Blame absolves the average human of responsibility for the condition of another human. This is the American national attitude, it seems. I could go on about the hypocrisy of a nation whose politicians and population are so publicly invested in maintaining Christian values take such an evil attitude, but that’s a rant for another day. I am getting off topic.
When someone is constantly on the seeking and/or receiving end of all these services and authorities, its easy to feel that the person on the other side of that desk is not like you, they are better. Its astounding to me how many intelligent women I have met here who believe themselves to be dumb, because that is how they are treated. We so often treat the needy as if they cannot be trusted to make their own decisions, despite the fact that as adults they have every right to. In the quest to maintain accountability of the needy for the services they receive, we often dis-empower them, treat them as if they are not just needy, but incapable. We are capable, and we decide whose needs get met. And we wonder why its hard for people to get out of poverty in this country?
I know what its like to need help from someone who didn’t believe I was capable. I struggled with that feeling all through school. So I try to do things differently.
I meet with people at a small dining table, not a desk. Without this table, I would only be able to meet across a desk, or I could come around the desk, but there would always be that divide, and it would be up to only me as to whether I cross it.
I make an effort to relate, to be pleasant, to treat people as if they are worth talking to about anything other than their program participation. Just as much of a person as I am.
And now, apparently, my handwriting. It is a big glaring flaw of mine that they take with them on the papers I hand them. I don’t put on a show of perfection, that would never work for me. My handwriting is transparently proclaiming that I struggle to, in at least this one small way. That might make all the difference.