In my time in the social sector I’ve seen it time and time again.
Youth Workers, Social Workers, practitioner’s, who come into this work thinking they can save the world. They see the poor, suffering masses, and they want to do something to help.
So they come, bringing with them their degree, their experience, their passion, to save, to fix things, to make a difference.
And then they become faced with the reality of what our people are enduring. The injustice, the suffering. They realize it’s so much bigger than they imagined, so much more complex than they could have thought possible.
Many become disillusioned, and instead of loving our whānau, blame them for the situation they are in. Others become burnt out, drained by trying to be all things to all people, overwhelmed by the hopelessness of it all.
Loving people that are hurting is hard, and that’s what our work is all about. Love.
And it’s hard to turn up every day and love someone who is in so much pain, that they can’t see through it. Who is in such agony, that it doesn’t matter what you do, they continue hurting themselves and hurting others, because that’s how they’re surviving right now.
It’s hard to love someone when you turn up to save them, and they turn around and say “f#@k you”, because they have had a hundred professionals before, and all of them have promised something, and none of them are here now. So how are you different?
It’s hard to love someone, after you give everything, only to have them steal your car, or your wallet, or your keys. It’s hard to love someone when they don’t change. When it seems they don’t want to change. When you’re exhausted, and our peoples suffering is like the ocean, beating down on you wave, after wave. Relentless.
If you come into this work to save people, you will burn out. For those of us that accept the Divine invitation to journey to the margins of our society, we must recognize that we can’t save anyone. That’s not our job.
In fact, when we think it is, we end up doing more harm than good. That’s when we disempower people, practicing in such a way that we take away the autonomy of those we serve, teaching them through our actions that they need us in order to heal, to grow, to achieve Liberation.
But, it’s not true.
We forget sometimes that those on the margins are not there because of some inherent fault of their own. They are there because the dominant culture has put them there.
For those of us who are pākehā this is something we especially must keep front of mind.
The dominant culture that we are a part of, that we have benefited from, has created society in such a way, as to benefit some, while marginalizing others.
The margins of society are not eternal, they do not need to exist. They are created by human greed, solidified by the lust for power and control by those who hold Power.
Western, colonial, neoliberal capatalism has created a society which is dehumanizing to all who live in it.
Those who participate in it are dehumanized by it, and who can avoid participation?
None of us. We all fall short, we are all trapped in some way, oppressed by a system of BEing that is sqeezing the human right out of us.
So, how do we achieve Liberation?
We recognize the humanity of our neighbor.
We recognize our part in all this.
We journey towards the mythical other.
We embrace and are in turn embraced.
We are not called to the margins to be Saviors.
We are called to be saved.
To be saved from our inhumanity, for we are not Individual Consumers, even though that is what we have been taught. We belong to each other. And when one of the whānau suffers, we all suffer.
If you think you can save anyone, you need to get out of this work. You will hurt yourself, and you will hurt those you have come to serve.
But, if you’re willing to join in solidarity with your neighbor, if you’re prepared to recognize that those we serve are our whānau, and that our Liberation, and theirs is bound together, than come, lets walk this path together.
A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also a steering group member of Manaaki Rangatahi, a collective working to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.