For the first time ever, I had a bad dream about my adored husband dying. Normally I would never mention such a thing, being just superstitious enough to want those words kept out of the universe’s ears, so let me move on by saying that the point of this sad dream was that social work saved my life. It gave me a support system, it gave me clients who needed me to show up for work, it gave me positive feedback and visible successes as a trail of breadcrumbs back to life – even though it was a life without my heart or self. I never stopped being sad in this dream; never had a life of my own again. All I did was throw myself into my work so I wouldn’t have to go home to the Honey-less house.
Thing next: though I grew up in a home that emphasized self-sufficiency, my single working mother tried to hone discernment in her boy-crazy daughter (me) by teaching me to judge men, in part, by how they treat subordinates, behave toward the weak, and care for dependents. On a date, how does he treat the server? Does he big-dog other men, especially men of short stature or men perceived as socially less-than? Is he dismissive of women who aren’t beautiful or young? Does he mimic or mock people with disabilities or impairments? Does he describe himself as a cat-hater, or hater of anything? Basically, if this man esteems himself for being higher on the pyramid than other people, he is just a bully looking for an excuse. Chances are good he doesn’t kowtow to those higher up the pyramid than he is, but he expects it from those lower. Sign of a hypocrite and a scoundrel.
From a social work perspective, why can’t we judge a society the same way? This does not clash with my bootstrappy childhood because even though we never depended on other people to help us up, we were deeply committed to helping out people who needed it, be they strangers or neighbors. You work hard and plan well for yourself, but we all know that Mother Nature can wipe you out in a single day, a single moment, and you could be the one in need. Users and abusers go to the end of the line or out the door – their kids don’t, mind you – but if you don’t give help, you don’t get help. Again, why not judge society this way? How do we treat our widows and orphans, our physically and mentally frail, our marginalized populations? How do we treat the animals in zoos and factory farms? How do we treat the children in our schools and streets? How do we treat the populations we control, such as the jailed, the institutionalized, and the military?
Consider the high number of people with moderate mental illness who end up in jail because they can’t afford the treatment or meds that keep them functional, and end up shoplifting or squatting in order to obtain food and shelter and clothing – basic survival needs. Life on the streets is not safe or healthy. Neither is life in jails and prisons. But incarceration offers food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, and a life out of the elements. It’s cheaper to provide services outside of prison, and it’s fundamentally wrong to imprison people for crimes committed only for the purpose of survival, but that is not how we run things.
I love the United States and I am proud to be an American. Individualist culture is my preference. But individualism is defined by the divisions between people rather than ties that bind them, and it is a mistake as a society to let individuals fall into the cracks. I have too much pride to enjoy living in a country where fat rich people can be chauffeured past starving homeless children. This indecency is un-American to me. We should care for our own. If people are looked down on for living in slum tenements, but the people who collect their rent are not looked down upon as well, something is radically wrong.
As with individuals, society must be judged by how it treats its weakest members and those in its control.