there is something about people that i find fascinating. it must have to with their capacity for resilience, ability to preserve, and innate goodness. something related to people just doing their best with what they have and with where they are.
throughout my life i have had the opportunity to meet some pretty amazing individuals. and i am not necessarily talking about all of my friends who are doing amazing and inspiring things with their lives, nor am i referring to the hard-working, talented, and dedicated social workers, doctors/nurses, community activists that i have encountered along the way. i’m talking about regular, ordinary people– the human beings i have come to know in the process of them changing their lives.
my experience and work has been with adolescents who had been convicted of a sexual offense or were involved with the juvenile justice system, individuals who are homeless or struggling against poverty, youth in the foster care system, and people who are in recovery from addiction. some of the kids i worked with had committed a sexual act against their younger siblings, some were involved in gangs and violent crimes, and others still were in trouble for drug use or larceny. the adults i have worked with have shared personal stories of dangerous behaviors, stealing, and violence while using or working to obtain their drug of choice. to put it simply, yes. yes, their behaviors and actions may have been bad or wrong. and trust me, no one i have encountered in treatment has been proud of what they have done in the past. but that’s not the only way i see it. i don’t view them in light of their mistakes. i believe that people have reasons for doing the things they do. some behaviors are learned and all behaviors are a choice. and what i see when i work with them are people doing their best to try and get better.
today was meaningful because i noticed what people were doing.
it is far too easy to pay attention to the bad and to notice every wrong turn people make along the way. and its even easier to only remember what someone has done to wrong you. and its easy to dismiss or write others off because of the mistakes they have made in the past. similarly, it is also easy to make negative generalizations about populations of people you have never met or taken the chance to get to know because of the behaviors associated with the label they have been given. but today, and everyday i choose to see the veterans (and other people i work with) as something more than their past behaviors or addiction. i choose to view people by who they are and not what they have been reduced to.
today was meaningful because i heard a heartfelt thank you from a man who completed the program and is on his way to obtaining housing. today, i complimented a client who made it to his appointment on time despite having to get up two hours early to catch the bus and navigate public transportation. and today, i smiled when a grown man patted himself on the back for depositing a small check into his bank account for the first time, rather than over-drafting it to support his crack cocaine habit. i noticed the smiles and hello’s i received as i made my way to my supervisor’s office, and i watched one man read and fill out another man’s paperwork because he is blind. not only did i notice what they were doing right, i looked for it. today i saw a man smile when he shared that he has been sober for 38 days– the longest amount he has been sober in the last 7 years.
today, i looked beyond the past to the present. i saw men trying. what i know is that good people can do bad things. some people are simply not ready to change and that’s okay too, but if/when they become ready, i’ll be the first to give them a chance. what i have found is that if you give people the chance, they are more than what they have done. and by noticing what they are doing right, it also helps me to see who they have the potential to be.
i challenge you to not reduce someone to a stereotype and to give someone the opportunity to do something right. because people can be incredible if you let them. help someone be their best self. in the midst of all they have done wrong, notice what they are doing right and take the time to appreciate it. today was meaningful because i celebrated every small accomplishment, i thanked every client that made it to his appointment and showed up on time. for asking questions, for holding the door open for me, for being honest and sincere about their past.
i was taken back when someone thanked me for “giving them the chance to be a good person.”
and today i smiled when someone said that i had given them hope.
i hope you give someone a chance.