Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Polishing up my perceptions

We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs. Kenneth Clark
Yesterday I gave a presentation on homelessness to a group of police officers who work in the inner city where the shelter is located. One of the officers told me that he had only moved into this district a couple of months ago. Prior to that, he was working in a suburb of about 250,000 residents. "I dealt regularly with about 150 of those residents," he said. "They were the ones who repeatedly caused problems. The only difference with them and downtown is they had fancy houses and used more expensive drugs."

For him, those 150 individuals became the yard stick against which he measured every resident in the community. "I became jaded by the 150," he said.

I asked the group of about 20 officers if becoming a police officer was about 'service'. They agreed it was integral to their call to duty. "When you became officers, did you agree to give residents in certain socio-economic groups service and not others? Did you commit to treating some citizens with dignity and respect and not others?" They all shook their head no. The truth is, they committed to treating every citizen fairly with dignity and respect.

"It is the same for us at the shelter," I said. "We are committed to treating everyone who comes through our doors with dignity and respect. To greet them where they're at, and to provide them service appropriate to their current reality. If they walk in drunk, they are invited to sleep on the first floor in the Intox area. If they are sober, they are welcomed to sleep on the third floor in the emergency sleeping area."

It is possible to become jaded. But the reality is, when we become jaded, we are not performing our jobs to the best of our abilities.

At the end of the presentation, one officer came up and asked if he could chat with me. "I want to give you kudos," he said.

I thought he meant about my presentation. "How nice," I replied. "Thank you."

"About C." And he named the client who had been at Choices the week before. "I was a trainee in the room when he went through. Good work. It really was inspiring to see the change in him."

In my work I have become somewhat jaded about police officers. Just as they stereotype those of us who work in the social sector, and just as they stereotype homeless citizens, I too am guilty of stereotyping them.

This officer reminded me that my stereotyping limits my ability to create more of what works in my life. It inhibits my capacity to create opportunities for change, for possibilities to open up, for me to live passionately on purpose, touching hearts and opening minds.

The gift of that officers experience is that in witnessing C. move from his 'stuck' to open position, he saw the caring heart beneath the wounded man. In his awareness of what happened with C., he can see the possibilities for other homeless citizens to shift and move away from stuck into open hearted living. To move away from that place where the past is the mud they're flailing about in, helplessly clawing at air as they sink deeper into the quagmire of their perceived helplessness. In his expanded perceptions, the past is simply the path the people he serves took to get to today. To a place where they are, no matter how haltingly and tentatively, taking positive steps to open up and live life in the fire, on fire, fired up with possibility. In his witnessing C.'s journey, he can share a different story with his fellow officers. He can move them from their jaded view into a more open minded perspective where possibility exists and hope lives.

I have been buying into the myth that I work in an 'us and them' kind of world. I don't. Unless I make it so.

My passion is to create a world where possibility exists, where lives light up to the beauty and truth of the human spirit soaring free.

Stuck in jaded thinking, I am putting my attention on what I do not want to create -- and living the contradiction in discord with my passion.

Opening up to possibility, I put my attention where I want to create more of everything that works when I live in harmony with my passionate resolve to be the best me I can be, creating opportunities for the world around me to shine at its best.

The question is: Are you buying into jaded perspectives in some corner of our world? Are you willing to polish up your thinking, dust off your perspectives and open up to the wonder of human spirits searching for a fresh view all around you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So true Louise.

When we work with a us vs. them mentality we are the ones who lose out. I have witnessed many times where that mentality has blocked the view of the good and positive in a particular person or group. Thank you for drawing attention to how each of us can block seeing others in a positive light when we hold onto the perception that they are "out to get us".

God bless you!