As counselors, we likely feel our ‘real’ work is done in the office but I don’t buy that. We are the sum of our parts and most of them do NOT happen in the office. They occur in traffic, at the market, at home or out with friends. We can ‘turn off’ our work—but not our ‘self.’ That rascal follows us everywhere. This is what I mean:
Yesterday, the pool where I swim was packed with about 50 kids. I was in the middle of my laps when suddenly the lifeguard above me blew his whistle. “Hey, you guys,” he bellowed in his 20 something, baritone towards the far side of the pool, “She said STOP!” I paused to look over. Two little boys were apparently bothering a little girl. They looked up at the guard, looked back at the girl and moved away. I wondered how he even observed the threesome so far away and in the flurry of all those screaming kids.
“Good for you,” I said to him. “Above and beyond the call of your job description, I think.”
“Well, they’ve got to learn sometime,” he said matter-of-factly.
Indeed, they have ‘got to learn sometime.’ We all do. Truth is, what we don’t learn well from our parents at home will be taught to us by the world whether we like it or not. From that first speeding ticket to the finance charge on the credit card we neglected to pay on time, we are learning lessons constantly. Like that guard, we should also be teaching them. When you witness events that are disturbing or might put another in danger, don’t be afraid to blow your whistle.
In my 20’s, I saw a mother slap her toddler for reaching for something on a grocery store shelf. When the child began crying, she slapped her again and told her to, “Stop crying!” When the child cried even louder, she grabbed her ponytail and began pulling her down the aisle. I couldn’t take it any longer.
“I am getting the manager right now,” I said as sternly as I could. “You are hurting her.”
“Don’t you DARE tell me how to handle my child,” the woman huffed.
Now, to be honest, I did talk to the manager, but what I said was fairly innocuous. In the years since, I have become more adept at doing the right thing as opposed to the ‘politically correct’ thing—which to my mind is tantamount to little above dead silence. A year ago, I informed a mother that her son was doing hard drugs. It was a difficult call, made more so by her flat out denials and hostility. Recently, I heard that she put him into treatment. She has not spoken to me since. I can live with that.
Helen Hudson is a counselor and 20 year member of the ACA. She is also the author of "Kissing Tomatoes," and speaks around the country on the importance of caring for the elderly, particularly those with Alzheimer's, with compassion.