Ericka runs a leadership development firm called Social Change Diva. She works mostly with nonprofits, foundations, and social entrepreneurs as a speaker, trainer, facilitator, and organizational consultant to help them build programs that increase their leadership capacity. She is a Maven/ Connector, an INTJ, and her Strengthfinder skills are: Developer, Ideation, Individualization, Learner, and Relator. You can connect with her on twitter @socialchngediva
Today she talks about the hard work that happens on the front line when we serve community and how serving from an office or 2 rows back is just as valuable.
When I was in law school, I was determined to provide services to the poor. I thought I was going to become one of those local lawyers who fight for social justice daily. I did clinics where I helped the homeless get benefits and I researched the rights of prisoners .
But the work that I did working with domestic violence victims left the lasting mark. In our undisclosed office location, we did intake and processing to help victims get temporary protective orders from their abusers. In the two years that I was there, I learned a lot about myself and victims of domestic abuse that have shaped my life and career.
1. Abuse is neither rational nor irrational
When you have been hurt, one the first things you want is protection. Your first response is to protect yourself and your loved ones. Your instincts are at work, not your rational mind. When the rational mind was at work, these women started to think about what they were leaving. Were they leaving someone who beat them, yes. Were they also leaving a sense of security? Yes. Did they know how they were going to survive without that security? Sometimes. Did it seem safer to go back into an abusive relationship where you knew your next meal was going to come from? Sometimes.
It was the “sometimes” that broke your heart.
2. Holding even momentary fate for someone’s life is too much responsibility
We saw all sorts of cases in the clinic. We saw victims who had beaten with fists, poisoned with fluids and food, dragged in cars, stabbed with knives, yelled at for hours and held against their will.
One day, I was in charge of intake for two cases. One woman had been beaten severely by her partner and she had two kids. The other woman had been poisoned by eating cereal that had gasoline poured into it. At that time, the court only made time to see 2 or 3 temporary protective orders a day and I had to decide which one of these women was going to go first. I don’t even think I blinked when I chose the woman who had been poisoned with gasoline to go and get the temporary protective order. I made a choice to send her instead of the woman who had been beaten up. At that moment, in my mind, her situation just was not bad enough.
I was put into a position where I had to make a call on which was worse. I didn’t want to make that call. No one should have to make that call.
3. Knowing your own capacity for change
After doing that clinic for 2 years, I decided I know longer wanted to practice law. I did not want to suffer day to day from seeing women and children hurt and watching the cyclical nature that is domestic abuse.
I often tell people I was not built to do direct client services. My heart is not big enough to hold all of the hurt of the world and to help us from it. I beat myself up because I think that I don’t have either the patience or the compassion inside of me to do the hard dirty work. On my harshest days, I tell myself that what I do is fluff.
But, when I step back, I realize that there are those of us who have high thresholds of seeing, witnessing and holding space for pain who can still be effective. And there are those of who don’t. I am the latter.
But i know that my contribution is no less than the person who does the direct client work. Neither is yours.
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