November 2012: We are peer reviewing each other’s papers in class when our professor issued a stipulation. “If you get an ‘A’ on this paper, you have to help someone who got a B- or less. If you don’t help them with their paper, you get an ‘F’ on your ‘A’ paper.”
Then he asked, “Why would I give you an ‘F’ for not helping your peers to get an ‘A’ too?” The class resoundingly responded in an almost automatic way, “Because we’re social workers.”
Our professor acknowledged, “Yes, because you’re social workers. Because you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re expecting your clients to ask you for help. You should be putting yourself in the position to ask for and to volunteer help.”
Earlier, my friend Sarah is driving me home from an evening at Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) where she volunteers on Mondays. The stable is a place where children with a range of different disabilities clamber onto horses, and the horses help them believe in themselves. The beautiful fall day could not have been more perfect for a couple hours in the dust of an arena, breathing in the smells of animals and hay. I walk for a session beside a wonderful boy with down syndrome who gives me more reasons to laugh than I could have ever imagined I would find tonight when I came here tonight. Here, forty minutes outside of St. Louis where the stable sits among pastures and trees, we can see the stars when we get into the car at the end of the night.
As Sarah turns onto Delmar on our way home, she is close to dropping me off; that is when we see a dog lost on the side of the road. Sniffing the weeds around a bus stop in front of Circle K, the dog is skittish and her swollen nipples hang from her stomach. Worried about her puppies and her well-being, we pull over and call to her. “Should we really stop to help her?” One of us asks. When we decide, “Yes!” unanimously. Sarah jokes, “We’re such social workers.” We call animal control and coax the stray to trust us, calling from our car. Throughout, I wish I had something to give the dog, to convince her that we’re trying to help, not to hurt her. Sarah says, “I just couldn’t leave her there.”
Afterward, all I could think about is the fact that every time we do something good, something to help other people or animals or the environment or whatever, we justify our actions with the phrase, “We’re social workers.” We help because we’re social workers? Because this is what we do… help? Fill in the gap. Defend and cry and strive to believe in rescue and justice… But are we social workers or just people?
Perhaps, we’re merely compassionate human beings. I’d like to believe that most people would stop to rescue a stray dog on the side of the road on a Monday night. I’d like to believe that if everyone had the chance to see a little boy laugh when he’s on the back of a horse, most would want to lift him into the saddle.
Is it social work that I’m doing or simply caring? I think everyone can be a social worker, if “social worker” means helping others to succeed. If “social worker” means caring about the problems enough to be an activist and an ally, then everyone is me. We all have to potential to be “ally,” “activist.” Both words are a part of my struggle for hope, for equality, justice, and a better world.
(In the words of a friend of mine, don’t be successful. Be significant)