Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Movies, Social Work and Living with Incompleteness

I see lots of movies. Lots and lots: thrillers, dramas, action and foreign films. I used to prefer those movies that ended happily and were preceded by a degree of crying (mine).  There was a resolution of a problem, unhappiness a sad situation.  More recently, I have been seeing a different kind of movie, where there is no resolution.  The audience is left without the happy ending. In fact, the audience is left with suggesting or predicting the resolution themselves.

 I saw this in the Iranian movie, ‘The Separation’ where the movie ends with the parents waiting outside the courtroom for a decision to be made by the authorities and the parents have no more say in the final decision.  Then there is the Israeli move, ‘Jaffa’, where two teenagers, an Israeli girl and a Moslem boy fall in love.  Their plan to run away is stopped by the boy’s involvement in a shocking and totally unexpected crime that puts him in prison for years.  What happens to these two young lovers and the child they conceived is unknown by the end of the movie. We are left wondering and equally frustrated by what appears to be an impossible position for both the young people.

And what does this have to so with Social Work, you may ask?  More and more, I see our work, whether it is child welfare, prisons, private practice, homelessness, substance abuse etc.  as having no clear resolution.  We give our best: struggling to help a suicidal patient deal with his sense of hopelessness, encouraging and providing resources to parents accused of abuse and neglect,  or mobilizing a community to address gang violence in the neighborhood.  And often, we cannot see the results.  Certainly not right away or in some cases, in months and years ahead.  We cannot predict or be sure of the results of our efforts, even in the face of the trend to ‘measure’ our work. We may not be able to stop a chronic alcoholic from continuing her drinking habit or lower the rate of gang violence or even prevent the person living with incredible shame and hopeless from suicide.  The cynic’s voice in us says this is thankless work.  And yet, we continue doing the work, employing all the skills, intuition and resources we can muster.  It’s what we do.  It is what we are committed to.  And often we don’t know the ultimate outcome. We just may not be around to see it.  We may leave the position to move out of state, or to seek further education, or to take advantage of a new job opportunity.  Our work is often like the unfinished movies above.  However, what we can say is that we did our best, we devoted ourselves to the work, and we did not give up.  And the outcome may be unknown.

Carol J. Trust

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