Tuesday, May 24, 2016


When my case manager comes into my office and tells me Mrs M is on the phone, my stomach sinks.  Mrs. M is legendary for being difficult to deal with.  I don't want the case manager to deal with her alone, so I've asked her to come get me when she calls.

Sure enough, when we pick up the phone, Mrs M. starts right in.  She's huffing and sighing at everything we say, as if we are so stupid it's just exasperating to deal with us.  Her words are a string of false accusation and hateful, personal insults.  I've dealt with bullies enough in my life to know that each accusation and every insult is bait.  The temptation to engage is almost overwhelming, but I know if I give her that, she wins.  Because she doesn't want to make a point or fix anything.  She wants to fight, and most of all, she wants to hate.  So I answer every hateful accusation and insult with further clarification about what we can and can't do, and what her responsibilities are and how she must meet them.

This is, as the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, the place that scares me.  I suppose we all have our worst fears.  For me, it is being hated and falsely accused.  I also suppose that this is a fear that many people share with me.  As Mrs. M pours the hatred onto me through the phone, a small part of my personality stands back and watches as the fear runs rampaging through me, breaking all the china in the house that is my ego.  When Mrs. M doesn't get anywhere, she runs down and concludes the phone call with "is there anything else, Bob?"  Her voice is drenched with sarcasm.

When I tell people I am a social worker, often they put on a patronizing voice and they say "you must be so patient."  How do I tell them that the real theme of social work is not patience but courage?  Courage, because when you try to do something good, the first reaction many people have is to hate you for it.  And to be hated is a terrifying thing and a demoralizing thing.  That's why social work is hard.

And yet, oddly, being hated also opens the door to the state of Flow or mindfulness that I write about in these pages that is so very valuable to me, and to the human condition.  There is liberation in facing your worst fear squarely and merely watching it as it unfolds.  In the words of the great Pema Chodron in her book "The Places that Scare You,"

“A further sign of health is that we don't become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it's time to stop struggling and look directly at what's threatening us.”

So this morning I'm raw and exhausted and I haven't slept.  I've spent the night looking the boogie man right in the eye.  And today I'm going to do some more social work.

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