Reclaiming the gifts of “serviced” people


Thanks to those who came to our first Faith in Action Reading Group today as we looked at a chapter from “When Helping Hurts”. Thanks also to Dear Daisy for allowing us to all but take over your cafè.

I was really stimulated by the conversation around the table I sat at. Among many other things we discussed the challenge of reclaiming lives in all their giftedness and worth when they have (and continue to be) served for their needs by a system set up to help them.

So many in our society have become “serviced” people. Labeled for what they need from our community rather than what they have to offer it.

As one person around our table shared; many people have come to understand they will “get more” from a service if they talk up their needs, talk up their brokenness and talk up their deficits. Do this too long and it becomes a habit of talking down gifts and contributions and value- a soul-sucking, life-destroying habit. And then we are surprised (as people hoping to do things a different way) when we are faced with people who seem to have no inerrant sense of self-worth, no goals, no sense of their own giftedness and who can even seem just to be out to get what they can from us.

And it will continue to be hard for us to do things differently because we are not doing them in a vacuum. While we work hard to help an individual or group to re-discover those gifts that they have to contribute to our community; the other handful of services they are likely also connected with (“serviced” by) will continue to work in the opposite direction spurred on by their output measures and department KPIs.

None-the-less I was encouraged today by a group of people really desiring to do things differently. Not just to create a different client assessment questionnaire but to allow the guiding principles of strength-based community work create a new road to travel on. A road that sees the “over serviced” and “over labeled” individual, group or community as a treasure hunt. That our role is not to decide what that treasure is but to support the person or people in the messy, creative, never-ending task of re-discovering gifts and passions and knowledge.

The tools for this “treasure hunt” are available to all of us- you don’t need a social work qualification to do this work. These tools include:

  • asking powerful and valuing questions (one person today suggested that they have found it powerful to ask of someone who sees themselves as one “cared for” about who or what they “care for”. It may be a dog or a garden.)
  • allowing the other person to guide the direction of the “treasure hunt” without predetermining what you believe the “right” answer to be (the COACH approach is good for this)
  • taking what one person today called a “lateral understanding of gifts”- seeing gifts as more than just what a person can DO.
  • connecting people. People can not discover or share their gifts on their own and often the most important task in this treasure hunt is in the connecting of people, groups and communities. This also allows for a culture of mutuality to develop which in itself fights against the “serviced” culture in which one person is the provider and the other the provided-to.

Thanks again for sharing today and I hope to see you at our next reading group when we look at this text from Paul Born.

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