A Joyful Struggle

We ended our final SW 505 class by discussing the experience of our “joyful struggle”.  I think this is a great term.  It speaks to the experience of social workers who deal in the messy, infuriating, depressing, uphill, unfair, unjust spaces in our communities.  When people are sitting at home watching the news thinking, “who will do something about this?”  The answer can reliably be: social workers.

We take on the messy parts of society to improve them.  But inevitably fatigue sets in, the negative thought-loops in our heads become stronger, louder, and faster, and our resolve is challenged.  We question our motives, our methods, and our impact.  We wonder if it’s worth it.

So how do we maintain joy in this struggle?  How do we continue to fight our good fights in the face of our own adversity as well as the adversity of our causes?

We must find ways to remind ourselves why joined the fight.  We must find strength in communities that also embrace the mess.  This work is difficult and it is easy to get lost in the storm of overwhelming criticism, systemic barriers, frustrating clients, prohibitive policies, and massive societal structures that seem expertly designed to defeat us and too big too overcome.  In those moments, let us be the David to their Goliath.  Let us press on like so many noble fighters before us.  Let us stand on the shoulders of giants and remember that no effort for justice is ever wasted.  Not every day will be our best day.  But each day that we have the opportunity to make our world more just is a gift.  Let us find gratitude in moments of success and failure, and let us remember that we are never alone.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ― Calvin Coolidge

“If I have seen further it was by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.  And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you walk through a storm hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on with a hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never, ever walk alone

Walk on, walk on with a hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never, ever walk alone – Rodgers and Hammerstein

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The Great Mascot Debate

A couple of weeks ago in class we discussed the issue of using ethno-centric symbols to represent sports franchise mascots.  This lead to a discussion on the propriety of using ethno-centric images for any kind of financial gain.

I entered the conversation believing that if some percentage of the demographic in question is offended then it is not worth continuing to use the logo.  The more we marginalize and make people feel “other” the farther away we are from making progress as one human race.
I left the conversation open to the idea that, whether anyone is offended or not is not the issue.  The issue is the principle that if the logo can be perceived negatively then it should not be used. I remain open to this idea, but as I thought further it seems to have sparked more questions than answers.
Are these shirts offensive or inappropriate?

Ali T-shirt: https://www.jackthreads.com/the/tees–tanks/tee/underwater-hitter-tee/products/136707

Using a figure from a marginalized demographic for any financial gain – is it all bad?  If so, how bad?  Does it matter who is profiting?  If the money was going to the NAACP or ACLU would it be better?
Does the level to which someone takes offense matter at all – or is it strictly the principle that makes it inappropriate?
Most discussions on this topic will lead to a discussion on the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish”.  Someone in our class suggested that this was not an adequate comparison because people of Irish descent have not been marginalized in the U.S.  Here are some articles that would suggest otherwise.

This lead me to the question: Is it only inappropriate to use ethno-centric images when the demographic in question currently experiences systemic disadvantage in the U.S.?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that, like so many other social justice issues, this one calls for the allowance of some gray area.  In a perfect world we might avoid these discussions completely as there are many other choices for mascots that would accomplish the goals of building a following and subsequently making money.  In our current world I believe we must take steps to eliminate oppression wherever possible.  If there are segments of Americans that feel oppressed or attacked by an ethno-centric mascot or that it’s use perpetuates negative stereotypes, then the right thing to do is change the mascot.

Transexual momentum

The trans world is not one in which I’m particularly well versed.  I had a friend in college who identified as transexual.  He educated me on the issues surrounding public restroom usage and I’ve been more sensitive to those and related issues ever since.  I find the language used in trans communities important and fascinating as it directly relates to one’s identity and personal development.

While I have not seen any episodes of “Orange is the new Black” I found it heartening to read articles about Laverne Cox’s work on the show.  She has been an effective spokeperson and advocate on trans issues as evidenced here in her interview with Time magazine: http://time.com/132769/transgender-orange-is-the-new-black-laverne-cox-interview/

Given my relatively new awareness to social justice issues in the trans community I was particularly struck by this article: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2274130-michael-phelps-reported-girlfriend-reveals-she-was-born-intersex?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=programming-UK

At the end of the day it discloses personal information about the nature of an intimate relationship.  This is really not the type of information from which I like to draw professional development lessons.  However I continued to monitor this story as I hoped it would raise the discourse around trans issues in our popular culture and news media.  I had trouble finding any articles that would lead me to believe this had happened.  That being said, the article has been read over 150,000 times.  It is not academically substantial, nor is it presented as an advocacy piece.  However, I hope more people became aware, and more sensitive and receptive, to people in the trans community as a result of this story.

Flags

I’ve always like the idea of being part of a group.  Maybe it’s a primal instinct to enjoy the safety or camaraderie of a pack, but ever since I can remember I’ve been an avid sports fan of my regional teams.  I even looked up to the older kids in my school district.  I’d watch them play football on Friday nights, all decked out in my Bulldog blue and gold and dream of the time when it would be my turn to represent our team in that uniform.

Six days each week I fly an American flag outside of our house.  I love looking at it when I leave and return home each day.  It is a quick reminder to be thankful for the lives we enjoy as Americans and what it has taken to create those lives.  We are not a perfect culture or country.  We have and still do conduct ourselves in ways that are abhorrently wrong and unjust.  We are also a beautiful country full of graceful decent people who honor each other the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

On Saturdays I fly our Ohio State University flag.  It is an homage to mine and my wife’s alma mater.  We love rooting for the football team and revel in the memories of our undergraduate days.  There are things I don’t like about the history of The Ohio State University.  But there is so much more that I am proud of.  It is a land-grant institution that afforded me the opportunity to grow and prepare myself for a career and a graduate program.  I consider it an honor to be affiliated with this institution of higher learning.

As I jog around my neighborhood I see other flags – almost exclusively representing professional athletic teams.  It is interesting to me that of all the ways these families could public identify their allegiances they choose professional athletics.  As I drive on the roads between Morrisville and Raleigh I notice that confederate flag bumper stickers outnumber any other type of flags.  I explain away the ignorance of those who present the confederate flag.  Maybe they are remembering a time where southern solidarity meant something to them or their families.  Maybe they are wildly oblivious to the emotions of pain, discrimination, and death that are conjured by that image.  Or may they’re truly racist bigots.

I have a tougher time rationalizing the lack of American flags.  It almost as though pride in our country has taken on negative connotations.  America is the birthplace of my grandparents, parents, wife, and children.  It is our country and it represents our values.  It is not perfect, but there are enough great things about it that I am proud to fly our flag.

Artie Lange Was Abusive – Warning: Racism and Graphic Language

This article shows the text of comic Artie Lange’s tweets from November 4th.  They are offensive, demeaning, misogynistic, vulgar, and gross.  There are also people who probably think they’re funny.

His tweets were directed at ESPN sports talkshow host Cari Champion.  She did not solicit them nor has she responded to them.  She is an innocent professional who was the target of Lange’s profane rant.

It’s probably responsible to mention that Lange has a history of drug and alcohol addiction.  He has been in recovery in recent years, but I would not be surprised if the next article we read about him indicates that he is back in a rehabilitation program.

As a social worker I want Lange and Champion to get whatever help they need.  If Champion feels threatened and attacked, then I hope she receives the appropriate care to return to her job in a safe and productive way.  I also want to see Lange be successful in recovery from his addiction.

But this situation had me thinking of several more questions.  Where is the line between humor and gratuitous vulgarity?  As advocates for social justice, how do we reconcile the fact that Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and yes, Artie Lange can be inappropriate – and hilarious?  Champion is under no obligation to respond, but should it matter if she does?  If she says that it was no big deal shouldn’t Lange still suffer some consequences?  If so, who is in a position to level them?

There are times when humor is the vehicle for tremendous progress and discourse.  The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Last Week Tonight are evidence of this.  There are also times when attempts at humor do more harm than good.

It is my opinion that Lange crossed a serious line.  He was wildly inappropriate and offensive, and he wasn’t funny.  There are times when these attempts at shock humor actually do help us make progress in the landscapes of social and popular culture.  People like Howard Stern, and the aforementioned Richard Pryor come to mind.  At this point I hope this situation leads to a conversation on public verbal attacks of celebrity personalities.  No one deserves to be treated the way Champion was.

The writers of The Simpsons and Family Guy seem to deftly walk the line between humor and hurtful impropriety.  Lange missed the mark badly, and I’m guessing his career will suffer for it.

Good luck with your recovery Artie,

Matt

We’re Ignoring American Heroes – Warning: Horrendous Tragedy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QplQL5eAxlY

Published on Oct 19, 2014

Translators who have aided the U.S. Military in Afghanistan and Iraq are in great danger in their home countries, but red tape is making it impossible for many of them to leave. John Oliver interviews Mohammad, one translator who made it out.

The above link is for a piece done by John Oliver.  The basic premise is that in places like Iraq and Afghanistan our soldiers rely heavily on local interpreters.  These local interpreters support our efforts and save countless American lives.

They do so at great personal expense. Aligning with US and Allied forces makes them and their families targets for insurgents.   Oliver tells the stories of several of such interpreters who have had family members killed based on their service. The man he interviews in person tells us that his father was murdered, and his three year old brother was kidnapped.  The interpreter had to pay the insurgents $35,000 to return his brother.

I think it’s clear that anyone with a functioning heart and brain would agree that this situation is unacceptable.  We have an obligation to protect these service members and their families.  The good news is that there is a process in place to offer travel VISAs to Afghans.  But, are you sitting down?  It’s almost impossible to use.  Three such VISAs were issued last year. There are currently thousands of interpreters with applications pending.  Places like The List Project (http://thelistproject.org/) are trying to help, but it is not nearly enough.

Applying for a special immigrant VISA is a 14 step process.  There are a variety of built in hurdles.  For example, Oliver discusses one of the first requirements of securing a letter of recommendation from a former supervisor who was likely a military contractor and would now be very hard to track down.
It gets worse.  The US embassy in Afghanistan is not scheduling any more appointments related to these VISA applications due to the system being overwhelmed.  However, it won’t be a problem for much longer, because the program itself is set to expire at the end of 2014.

Clearly there is a very serious need for security screenings.  The good news is that we have a history of handling such a problem.  After the Vietnam war we resettled 140,000 refugees in 4 months.  We took them to Guam and processed them in safety with relative ease.

There is so much more that we need to be doing to support our returning veterans.  Whether they were US citizens at the time of their service should not have any bearing on how they are served and protected if they choose to come to America.  They sacrificed in an effort to support our Armed forces.  For that they have earned our gratitude and protection in kind.  Watch this clip at the top of this post.  At times it uses humor to discuss this horrible situation.  It’s heartbreaking that it is happening, and tragic that so little is being done to address it.

FUBAR,

Matt

What to do when an athlete (or anyone) needs counseling

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/24/sport/football/luis-suarez-sport-suspensions-recovery/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

As this article describes professional soccer player Luis Suarez recently completed a 4-month ban from the sport as punishment for his third biting offense.  You read that correctly.  He’s been punished for literally biting an opponent during a match… three different times!
This is a bizarre scenario.  However I appreciated how the author focused less on Suarez and more on the interventions we use with professional athletes.  The author states that “You would expect FIFA to say as part of the ban you have to do ‘x’ amount of counseling. Adding the counseling bit did not take place.”

It almost never does.

World football lacks both a formal system of preventative measures to avoid infractions and a consistent aftercare program for suspended players.

This, despite the proliferation of cameras (on and off the pitch) and the hazards of social media that have players sitting out for a wider range of offenses than ever before.

Those who are exiled from their clubs, as the initial terms of Suarez’s ban stated, are especially fragile.
What is an employer’s obligation to their employee when they’re dealing with an issue for which counseling would be an effective intervention?  Do the obligations change based upon the employee’s salary or celebrity status?
Athletes are a unique group of professionals.  Many of them have had the privilege of systems bending to accommodate them based on their skill set . Additionally, they are often presented with a sudden and tremendous amount of wealth.  This combination of experiences can be substantial barriers to service for this group.  I’m sure the owner of any sports franchise would espouse how the health of their athletes is their top priority.  If this is true then we need to change the way support athletes, and any employees, who need counseling.  Banning them from their support networks is often counterproductive.
Maybe every professional franchise should establish a role for a social worker to align appropriate interventions for their players?  If this ever happens I’m calling “dibbs” on The Cleveland Browns.

Addiction is a mean disease

Terminal diseases are devastating by definition.  We all have to go, but diseases make us feel cheated – particularly when they arrive before someone has lived a “good, long life”.  My field placement has given me direct exposure to the particularly cruel disease of addiction.

Addiction tears apart your life in pieces.  It decreases your self-esteem.  It damages your relationships.  It ravages your mental and physical faculties.  And it does all of this in a gradual way.  It grinds away at your senses and capacities until you are a barely recognizable version of your former self.

What’s more, it’s one of the only diseases that is actively deceptive.  Addiction tries to convince you that you are fine.  Not only are you in control of the choice to have another drink, but if you have another drink, it won’t hurt you.  Not only will it not hurt you, but it will feel great, and then you can stop and move on with your life.

Even if you do screw up, the damage won’t be permanent – and you can probably hide it from anyone you care about.  Besides, life is hard.  Don’t you deserve this little break?

The thought cycles are cruel and they don’t stop until a person hits bottom.  Bottom is the point where one’s way of life has become intolerable – finally to themselves.  At this point they are ready to attempt treatment.  But addiction is not a disease that is treated quickly.  Most addicts need to attempt treatment many times before it is effective.

Then there are those who don’t hit bottom.  For them the disease is too strong even for the most devastating of consequences.  At that point, if they are still alive, the first step of treatment is to cultivate some reason for hope.  Devastating pain and loss is not enough to move a person to start treatment for this particularly cruel strand of the disease.

I’m not an addiction expert.  But I am speaking from experience I’ve witnessed and that has been shared with my by people in the midst of this disease.  As terrifying as this disease is, watching people overcome it is commensurately beautiful.  The right kinds of treatment can beat this disease.  It’s difficult, and one size does not fit all.  But some treatment components remain consistent regardless of the individual.

The Components:

One must be a willing participant in the treatment.

One must be able to experience a recurrence of the disease and be supported to continue treatment.

It helps a great deal to be supported by others afflicted with the disease, as well as those who are in recovery.

One must be committed to reprioritizing their lives and developing healthy habits to insulate themselves from recurrence.

One must continue to be in environments that are supportive of their recovery over the long term.

If these components are maintained, the individual has a very good chance (~80%) at beating this disease and remaining healthy in perpetuity.

It’s interesting how the components could apply to cancer, AIDS, and heart disease, as well as addiction.  For many reasons we do not perceive these diseases the same way.

Vaya con Dios, Brah,

Matt

The Language of Addiction

I have learned a great deal about addiction and recovery at my field placement – The Healing Place of Wake County (hpowc.org).

One of the things that has fascinated me the most is a way that our participants use language triggers to keep their healing techniques in the forefront of their thoughts.  The participants in our recovery program work through the traditional Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step curriculum as well as a program of study called “Recovery Dynamics”.
The principles of these programs can be complex and must be personally internalized in order to be effective.  Over many years of application, students of these programs have developed language triggers, or quick sayings, that speak to more complex ideas.
The sayings serve as meaningful reminders whenever a person needs to draw upon the strength of the particular lesson or share some experience, strength, and hope with a fellow person in recovery.  In a moment of crisis or temptation a simple saying can trigger a larger thought that can help a person combat their addictive impulses.

I love this approach to continually implement important lessons in one’s life, and I have started to use it myself.  I’ve included some examples below.

“Do the next right thing” Battling addiction can be brutally difficult.  When in a time of crisis an addict is prone to absolute thinking.  The one thought is that they have that drink and ruin their lives along with whatever time of sobriety they’ve accumulated.  The other thought is that they hold out, and are up against the stress of today, the expectations of their family and friends, how they’ll meet all their obligations tomorrow and on into the future.  This type of absolute thinking can get dangerously overwhelming.  The way to combat this is just to do the next right thing.  Get out of bed.  Brush your teeth.  Take a shower.  Have a healthy meal.  Don’t worry about tomorrow, or next week, or even later today.  Just do the one next right thing.  If they keep that up they can outlast the time of crisis and progress in their sobriety.

“If you hang around the barber shop long enough, you’ll get a haircut” Don’t put yourself in a position where your drug of choice is prevalent.  It sounds simple, but it’s important.  Make a point to notice for one day the number of places you pass where you have access to alcohol.  An addict is keenly aware of all of these places, and needs to have a variety of coping mechanisms to avoid and resist the craving to use.

“It’s not alcoholwasm. It’s alcoholism” Once, an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.  This principle has been in place since the first printing of The Big Book.  However a 2014 study proved that there are differences in a person’s brain when comparing their scans pre and post addiction.  I was not able to track down the article, but our chief medical officer at The Healing Place mentioned it at a meeting, so I will have a chance to follow-up with him.

And I just liked the way these sounded…

You can be a hopeless dope fiend or a dopeless hope fiend.

Suit up and Show up, Don’t shoot up and throw up.

On a related note, the language of recovery can be a very effective tool for those interested in advocating on behalf of this community.  Faces and Voices of Recovery is a wonderful non-profit organization that works in this space.  Here is a link to their recovery messaging training materials.

http://www.facesandvoicesofrecovery.org/action/host-recovery-messaging-training

Keep on keepin’ on,

Matt

White privilege is bogus.

Before you write me off please read the next sentence.  I know white privilege exists and I’m committed to understanding it better.  I’m committed to helping others understand it and finding the right ways to address it.  That’s why I have such a problem with the term.
Understanding privilege and systemic racism and disadvantage is uncomfortable and difficult.  So it requires high-level self awareness and intelligence working in concert. 

Self-awareness is necessary to allow for the necessary empathy for another person’s vastly different life experience. A certain level of intellectual aptitude is necessary to comprehend the myriad systemic and personal impacts related to  privilege and the the historical events that are impacting present day behaviors. 

These requirements alone mean that understanding and spreading the concepts of  privilege is an uphill battle – and we’re making it even harder on ourselves.

We’re making it harder by calling it “privilege.”  Surely, the term “privilege” is accurate by definition.  But think about it in practice.  What comes to mind when you think of the word “privilege”?  For me, it is a rich white kid getting access to things that others can’t.  While, this image works for the term, there are a number of flaws in it.  For example, poor people enjoy white privilege as well.  But I think the biggest problem with it is that this term turns off white people.  Think about it – it’s not a natural human inclination to admit one’s own advantage. 

White people are the ones who need to understand white privilege most.  They are the ones who are in the best position to address the negative impacts of white privilege and eliminate it where possible.  The same is true for male privilege, and straight privilege, and female privilege, and so on.  So, let’s use a term that doesn’t leave the target audience feeling alienated, attacked, and on defense. 

Could white “perspective” work?  How about white “experience”?

The concept of privilege applies to many people and impacts us all on a daily if note constant basis.  In order to spread the concepts and interventions as effectively as possible we need to be intentional in our language.  As the english teacher from my well-funded, mostly white, public high school taught me, “Words have meaning.  Use them with care.”

Peace be the journey,

Matt Kreiner (a white guy)