The values that can guide us in these changing and challenging times
26 March 2020 at 8:12 am
Professionals who work with human vulnerability and need, including teachers, medics and social workers, have a leading role to play in this current crisis, due to the values they bring to the work, that have been honed over years of practice, writes Rachel Clark.
In front of you is a single parent, unable to pay the electricity bill, or feed their kids until next payday. Or a student having a panic attack and triggering another student’s anxiety. And more current, a long line of terrified people waiting to be tested for COVID-19.
This is a regular day at work in the medical, educational, psychological or community trenches.
When a working day looks like an obstacle course of small to larger human crises or emergencies, maintaining task focus and clarity alongside compassion and non-judgment is the super-skillset honed over thousands of hours of working with human need and vulnerability.
It’s in moments of wider community crisis that the skills teachers, nurses and doctors, social and community workers have, can be seen, witnessed, and valued for the beacon of light that they are.
In times of crisis, we learn about triaging human need to manage situations safely, fairly and productively. And this is what these human-centred practitioners, as I call them, are primed to do already, because it’s in their work DNA. It’s their super-power. But how do they do what they do, each day, for a lifetime of days?
It’s all about emotional self-regulation – these workers can quieten the personal responses they have in service of their client, patient, or student. They check-in with themselves, both internally and with qualified support, to process the waves of feelings that result from the very real knocks that happen in a day’s work.
So, if working with human need is so difficult, why do people sign up for it? For many of these roles it’s certainly not for money. Wages are low. The pull towards service often comes from deeply held beliefs in the value of collaboration and collective action: the desire to pull together to support those who have unmet needs… and there are always unmet human needs.
In our culture, in modern times, we have placed value in strange places: money; property; external beauty. There is no doubt that a flashy car or a larger house at times can be alluring and easily sold as an ideal. We are all encouraged to believe in the pursuit of acquisition because that is the capitalist way. But when times get tough, what is of real value comes into clearer sight: relationships; trust; care; love. As a society we have fallen out of love with these core principles of humanity.
Here we are: right now, the sparkly new things we have been told to covet mean little. In the face of an evolving health crisis we are having to re-evaluate all that we have come to believe is important, and it comes down to people and how we connect to each other.
The performances we see from most of our politicians fall so very short when looking to leadership for modelled behaviour. So often the behaviours we witness in Parliament or press conferences boil down to shouting and shutting others down or belittling opposing viewpoints: all features of an adversarial political culture emanating from values placed on being “right”, or “in control”. In recent times we have also seen our elected leaders missing clear human cues calling for compassion – think forcing shocked community members to shake hands for the camera when what they needed was to be heard and witnessed in their grief.
In contrast, the everyday heroes still working in classrooms, surgeries, and shelters are using skills to support those in pain, fear, or confusion that come from values of empathy, patience, solidarity and support. When possible, they will be allowing what needs to be shared, to be. They won’t be forcing their own agendas onto others.
I believe now is the time for the incredible human-centred practitioners in our midst to lead our communities by demonstrating what care, listening, and attending to those who are scared and vulnerable looks like.
This is the time for our human-centred approaches to shine.
This is the time to be valued for our skills.
This is the time to lead our communities.
About the author: Rachel Clark is a teacher and community development practitioner with 25 years practice experience. She teaches and mentors future community service workers, organisers and activists to make an impact in their community from a strengths-based, self-care and diversity perspective. Rachel is also the founder of Lumin Leaders, an organisation which guides human-centred practitioners through educational and psychological support services.