Vegetarian Soup for the Social Work Soul

19 08 2011

I hate inspirational quotes.  Thanks to social media and Google, it’s oh-so-easy to find them and spread them around. Some people I know have started sounding like page-a-day calendars.

I’m aware that the job occasionally makes me sound like I could do with a bit of inspiration. (Or need to be talked off a ledge, something like that.) But some of these quotes…they just kill me.

“Failure teaches success.”
Sweet! I’m well on my way, then. And this will not sound condescending in the least to someone required to repeat a grade for the third time.

“Everything happens for a reason.”
Well thanks. Please say that to a sexually exploited child. I’ll wait.

“Everything works out fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end!”
What the fuck does that even mean?

Don’t even get me started on people who think my clients need to be their “authentic selves.” I liked Oprah as much as anyone, the way she yelled people’s names was awesome, but her views do not belong in social work.

Then we have the posters on the walls in the office, that the teens and I laugh heartily at before attempting to tear down. Did you all know that team work makes the dream work? Or that you should aim for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars? It really helps to pay your rent.

Now quotes are being passed around by my director. Apparently, we all need to, “autograph our work with excellence.” I’ll get right on that. Just autograph my service plans when I submit them, and save the paper we’re wasting by printing out this drivel.

Cynical though I may sound, and as much as I hate those cheesy soundbites, there are times when I need a pick-me-up. We all do. Or we burn out, and probably bring some of our loved ones down for the ride. So I do look for inspiration. For something uplifting, to keep me going with what I have to do. But I have some different sources, and criteria.

For one, the quote has to be from someone I have actually heard of. “Unknown” or “proverb” tends to feel a bit irrelevant to me.

“You have no right to fail.”

A group of friends and I spent two weeks working with kids in an extremely poor village in Ecuador one semester in college. This quote was said by a nun who had dedicated her life to running an incredibly successful school for children in the community. Her point was that we were all college-educated, middle class Americans. Who did we think we were to even entertain the possibility of not helping others?

“Our job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going. Gratitude never radicalized anybody” — Susan B. Anthony

This one is a reminder to myself, and what I’m working for, and what I need to instill in all of my clients, but especially my teen girls. Complacency is our enemy.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” -Rahm Emanuel

He took some shit for it, but I don’t think he should have. Crises occur. That’s life. But using them as a jumping off point to change circumstances, to get people moving, to make people think and see different possibilities, is what social work is all about.

After a difficult home visit, my iPod is often my best friend. Two songs in particular are my go-to, only to be broken out in case of emergency.

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

-Mumford and Sons, The Cave

This is why we fight
Why we lie awake
And this is why
This is why we fight

When we die
We will die
With our arms unbound

-The Decemberists, This is Why We Fight

When things get really dire, it’s time for the ultimate comfort food for my soul–Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s honestly one of the most heartbreakingly brilliant shows I’ve ever seen. It also helps that no matter what kind of day I’ve had, odds are Buffy had a worse one. (Friends dying, lying to your mom about late night slaying patrol, your boyfriend trying to kill you after you turn him back into an evil demon by sleeping with him…it’s not easy being the Chosen One.) That’s where the following bittersweet exchange came from, something that I’ve often wanted to hear in my own life:

Buffy: Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: Lie to me.
Giles: Yes, it’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Liar.

One final one, that strikes me in its simplicity, beauty, and truthfulness. On the importance and power of words, which I relate to as both a writer, and a social worker.

“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” -Albus Dumbledore

You didn’t honestly think I was going to leave you without some Harry Potter, did you?

What are your favorites?

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12 responses

19 08 2011
btrflygl

I love your posts!!! And I am also one who loves cheesy quotes. I would never use them with many of my clients though.

19 08 2011
socialjerk

Thank you! Hey, if cheesy quotes help you through the day, go for it. We all have to do what works. Thanks for reading 🙂

19 08 2011
Vetnita in MN

Awesome! Smarmy, fake helpful people love to use zen sounding quotes to explain why life really sucks for some people.
The quote I use on a weekly basis both in life and at work is from a little know movie called “Welcome home Roxie Carmichael”. The main character tosses off, “It’s good to want things” as a response to other people’s expectations. My kids have actually learned to quote it back to me when I start getting too controlling.
As a book and movie geek I am a huge fan of quotes and would cover my walls with them except that I know that most people I know would have to change a few letters or add to the illustrations. Another favorite is one I have read you use, “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children..” That one breaks your heart when you know a really bad mom.

19 08 2011
socialjerk

Yes, there is one person in my (personal) life who is constantly using these types of quotes, but doesn’t seem to appreciate that her life is rather charmed, so they don’t apply to everyone.

I will have to check out that movie, I’ve never heard of it. But I like that line.

And “Mother is the name for God…” is one of my favorites, I can’t believe I forgot it. I used The Crow in my presentation in social work school on using comic books in practice, so that book and movie always remind me of work. (In a good way.)

Thanks for reading!

19 08 2011
Vetnita in MN

I am a total comic book pusher to kids! Neil Gaiman lives in Wisconsin and I have given away so much of his autographed stuff to teens who tell me that they “don’t read” only to see them the next day asking for more.

P.S. Stan Lee owns the best quote in the world: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

20 08 2011
Cheap Social Worker

Yes! I hate cheesy quotes too! My most hated quote would have to be, “Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes your stronger.” Tell that to someone who has just gotten paralyzed in a car crash, or someone who just lost their spouse. Makes me cringe whenever I hear a friend say it.

One of my favorite songs to listen to is “Everybody Hurts” by Radiohead. Simple lyrics, but it does the trick.

Great blog!!!

24 08 2011
socialjerk

“What doesn’t kill you…” is the perfect example. You’re definitely allowed to punch someone who uses it. (It’s in the Bible, somewhere in the back.)

“Everybody Hurts” is gorgeous. Great message and lots of empathy. Good choice!

And thanks so much!

26 08 2011
TropicGothic

I really liked this quote from Margaret Stangier that was from her documentary talking about the status of women.
“We are becoming the men we wanted to marry.”

“Follow your bliss.”

27 08 2011
Rebecca

I HATE INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES TOO!! I’m a recreation therapy intern at a state-run, extremely restrictive child psychiatric hospital. We’re the most restrictive (and long-term) facility in the state.

The CTRS I work under likes to say some obnoxious (and offensive) things to the kids. My favorite is one he says frequently, when we’re doing big activities like our camping/backpacking trips, the carnival or discharge outings. “This is what it’s all about, guys! Memories! After all, when we die, all we have is our memories!” It makes no sense on so many levels.

1) YEAH BUDDY, LET’S TALK ABOUT DEATH IN SUCH FLIPPANT TERMS WITH PSYCHIATRIC PATIENTS.
2) What does that even mean?
3) Anybody heard of dementia? Alzheimer’s?

Almost all of my ACTUAL favorite quotes are song lyrics, yup I’m that kid.

“Will the flood behind me put out the fire inside me?”

“Aardvarks are our friends.” (I’m not kidding. This is a camp song sung to the tune of Yankie Doodle. That is the only line. Over and over again, then faster and faster. It’s my funeral song. I sing it in my head at funerals. It has become a reminder of strength to me.)

“I swim for brighter days despite the absence of sun.” Swim by Jack’s Mannequin is one of those songs that gives me the “gurl get yo ass up, you can’t do this forever” message when I’m having a hard time.

All of Pork and Beans by Weezer is pretty damn inspirational to me, same with The Resolution by Jack’s Mannequin.

I could also quote Dr Seuss all day long. I have issues with some of his quotes, but I love others:
“”Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

One of my all time favorite Dr Seuss ones doesn’t sound all too inspirational.
“Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.”
I love it because it’s TRUE. All the “you’re gonna be awesome at everything and win all the time” messages bother me a lot, because it’s not realistic.

Sorry… that was the longest comment ever. I just found your blog (via Rebecca at Fosterhood) and I love it so much!

29 08 2011
socialjerk

After we die all we have is memories?! What a bizarre and awful thing to say, especially to kids. I can think of several who would have a serious anxiety episode and meltdown upon hearing that.

Thanks so much for the quotes! I’m a big Dr. Seuss fan too, and I love the ones you picked. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog!

29 08 2011
Rebecca

Yup. He said and did a lot of strange things. One of our outings he picked out was to take a group of them and walk across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (google it, you have to see the picture for this to make sense). Well guess what? While we were on it one of the girls said she wanted to jump. So here we are, with five patients, sandwiched between a highway and the Puget Sound…

Anyway, I was up until four this morning reading the blog. Very few people I know understand what it’s like to work in a human service agency.

29 08 2011
Carolyn

My favourite quote to hate???? “God won’t send you anything you can’t handle.” To which my sister replies “Yeah, but does he have to dangle you over the edge?”

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