Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Golden Rule?

In interviewing potential social workers, the CEO of the health center where I work always gives a standard speech: the case managers - paraprofessionals who are members of our clients' cultural/linguistic groups, and serve as culture brokers in addition to connecting clients with concrete services - must be treated with equal respect as any professional. 

To me, this rule seemed obvious - why wouldn't I treat them with respect? However, he wouldn't say it unless some previous staff member had been disrespectful. This fact got me thinking about how we, social workers or other professionals, treat each other. 

We're taught (repeatedly) about the importance of respect and sensitivity toward all forms of diversity in our clients - race, ethnicity, class, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion. However, there is little talk about the importance of showing each other the same respect. 

How often do we judge each other on the basis of the same kinds of diversity we make such a point of accepting in our clients? 

I know that I have faced prejudice from colleagues and potential employers because I identify as Christian - they assume or fear I represent the "religious right" rather than my actual progressive Christianity. Other people I know have faced other forms of discrimination: Male social workers are assumed to be gay. Persons of color are sometimes assumed to be less educated. The very presence in the profession of those of us with any history of mental or emotional problems is questioned. Not to mention physical disabilities: You can't work on a psych unit if you can't participate in restraints! Or, how can you be a therapist if your hearing or vision is impaired?

If we step back and imagine making the same assumptions of clients, we are appalled, and yet we readily say or think these things about each other. What scares me is that, if we think these things of each other, are we really not harboring the same attitudes toward clients? That was my reaction to our CEO's speech - any professional who treats the case managers disrespectfully may very well be treating clients just as disrespectfully. 

So, let's try to extend the same respect and acceptance toward each other that we aspire to show our clients, and that we hope to receive ourselves. We may be surprised by how it enriches our profession for everyone to feel free to bring all of themselves to the work. 

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