I’d venture to say that no one goes into any particular field expecting heaps of gratitude. None of the waitresses or bank tellers I know have said, “Hey, the pay isn’t great, but the general public are just so darn polite!”
Social workers are in the same boat. (Lawyers are in a similar yacht.) It’s hard to work with people. They are often unpleasant and demanding.
In mildly amusing euphemism social work school, people always said that we go into this field because we love people. I’m going to assume that we’ve spent enough time together for you to imagine my reaction to that.
Social workers try hard to help people. And it’s incredibly rewarding when we actually can. There are also plenty of times when we fall short. We can’t deliver services that we thought we could. Despite our best efforts, a kid ends up in foster care or the hospital.
Fortunately, the populations we work with are incredibly forgiving.
I used to work in a youth center, way back in 2006. One of our favorite times of the year was Christmas, due to our Christmas giving program. Businesses and wealthy people sponsored the children and families we served, to give them presents and food for a nice holiday.
Most families are extremely grateful for this. But then there’s always the ones that ruin it…
Our first day back from the Christmas break, an 11 year old girl who had received a van-load of gifts walked up to me to say, “I asked for Jordans.” Well, I asked for Ryan Gosling, kid, so I guess neither of us are happy.
A mother yelled at a co-worker of mine, because she felt that the brand new coat she had received was ugly. My co-worker was so flustered that she forgot her Spanish, ultimately trying to tell this woman she was ungrateful by calling her “graciosa.” (Babelfish that one. I’ll wait.) The woman probably did not get the message, but at least she left sincerely confused. And wearing an ugly coat.
Sometimes you expect these things, but other times you are caught off guard. I called an elderly man, back when I was an intern, to offer him a home health aid for the low, low price of free. This was a city funded service for low-income seniors, and there was an incredibly long waiting list. Putting 85 year olds on an indefinite waiting list…let’s just say a lot of people never got what they were waiting for.
I was excited to tell this man that he had finally been approved, and a worker would be coming over for an intake. Someone to clean your house and wash your ass–free! Do you know what people usually pay for that kind of service?
Instead, I got yelled at for twenty minutes. “Do you even know who this person is? I’m not going to let just anybody work for me. You better interview this woman. What are you trying to do to me?”
Sir, I’m trying to offer you a free service that you requested. FREE! Am I the only cheap person left?
You try to understand where these people are coming from. There are mental health issues, cultural differences, and feelings of shame at accepting help.
We can all be assholes sometimes. People who need help are not exempt from that.