Recently I have been exposed to research on social justice and equality, which have directly and indirectly influenced my constantly developing understanding of the meaning of well-being from within the individual to the relation to the wider socio-cultural-political contexts. I believe this change may also be evident in my writing interests, including the current one in which I used a TV criminal series, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit as a good case example to reflect my thinking.
In an episode (Season 17, episode 4), the Department of Child Services of New York city was brought into investigation after news broke out that a 3 years old child was found to be wandering on a street alone, before the case escalated to the horrifying discovery that another child was found locked in a dog cage, starved and unconscious (she died afterwards), while the drug-addicted mother was high on the street. Both were under supervision of the Department of Child Services, and soon investigation turned the case into the responsible caseworker’s fraud and superior positions’ misconduct.
This is much more than just catching the bad ones
Is the case just about finding the wrong person and bring him/her to justice? In response to this, I want to quote the exclaim the service supervisor/manager (Ms. Jeanette Grayson) made as she was questioned by the Counselor about her wrongdoing (her pressure to her caseworkers to fulfill impossible caseload, followed by the instruction to make intentionally falsify home visit reports in order to meet productivity goals (an act of obstructing governmental administration), which led to reckless endangerment of the service children) –
‘I didn’t want any of this to happen…I’m asked to do what the courts can’t do, what the cops can’t do…Oh! God himself could not do this job!…You want to judge me? You wouldn’t last an hour in my world. And if I go, who’s gonna be on the front lines? You? You? (look around) I mean, you dump the most hapless cases in the world on us every day. More and more. We get the dregs of humanity…children raised by wolves! And you see them come in this court, in and out, week in and week out. They come to you as criminals. Do you ever stop to think, “Gee, what happened before that?”…(Ms. Grayson do you need a break?) Oh now you want to give me a break? After 25 years of, “Make your quota, Jeanette. Push that paper. Hit those numbers.” It’s impossible, and everybody knows it. And you all know it, but want to scapegoat me. You want to make me feel bad. You want to take me down so you can feel better about yourselves, see? ‘Cause you pretended like…you don’t know there are poor people out there in the city. Broken people. You don’t turn away from the homeless guy on the subway? Of course you do. Everybody does, ‘cause it’s too much. Now you want to put me in jail for this? Look in the mirror, my friend. Look in the damn mirror. Okay?’
Joining dots between the professional and the personal
Her words speak right to my heart. As a psychologist, I devote myself into providing mental health support to help individuals recover from the psychological injury, trauma and pain. I proud myself for my dedication at my workplace and the meaningful journeys I collaboratively create with the different clients. However, back into my personal life, I sometimes question if I act like, or I am indeed a different person – for me who have just seen a client going through the dehumanizing governmental benefits application, what does it mean to me anymore to dress up nicely and go to a fancy place for a drink, let alone all the expensive makeup, clothing and jewelry? And what does this (me in relation to luxury) mean to those who barely afford 3 meals per day, or pay the electricity/water expenses, and on top of them some I know?
We blame but we cannot take the blame
We all like to be on the right side. When there is an issue broken out, or a crime to dig, we all believe we stand on the same side of justice.
We crave for the word ‘the truth’. No matter whether it is about pinning down at the wrongdoing, or putting the faulty ones behind the bars, we never shake off our tendency to direct our ‘righteous’ finger at someone.
Only until we can no longer detach ourselves from being targeted, then we avoid to put that ‘righteous’ crown on our heads. We blame and criticize, but we cannot take criticism or blame. The thing is, somehow we fail to link the two dots together – often what we fight against or blame about may come from our own demons of what we are accused of. Ms. Grayson’s words ‘You don’t turn away from the homeless guy on the subway?’ are exactly one spot-on example of our conflicting humanity. How can I justify my shameful/guilty feelings which emerge and then brushed off every time I walk pass the homeless, in particular when I am on the way to a restaurant for an expensive meal?
This story reflects 2 powerful messages – 1) we ought to never see something without considering its interrelating relationships with the underlying or surrounding factors, 2) and we are not as separated from that interrelating relationships; on the contrary we are embedded within that giant intertwined web. The lesson we take on is not just to recognize this web which has trapped the broken people; but it also traps the majority of people, us who believe we do fine, yet are blinded to see the fact that we all belong to the system reinforcing social injustice and adversity, and we inevitably play a part in the accelerating political/social/cultural/economic disparity.
I am writing this not with the intention that we should, or I should throw away my whole life for the sake of the others’. I believe that this is about admitting and addressing our biases and power imbalance, and taking some form of action and changes for that. This article is about us knowing that we are part of the problem, and we choose to face it. Admit it. Confront it. And we channel our thoughts to action to minimize the gap with the underprivileged. The idea is not about ‘doing-it-all’, but doing something. Perhaps it is about cutting down a few drinks, and instead donating my 2-3 hours of time for volunteering; or it’s about trying to enjoy some good times, but at same time I ensure myself making contribution.
Like what Ms. Grayson said – ‘Look in the mirror, my friend.’ I would like myself to look at the mirror with smile, positivity and no regret.
#social justice #psychology #counseling psychology #diversity #inequality #injustice #lawandorder #counseling #empowerment