This entry was inspired by Joe Lynch, LCSW, who played a major part in social work history in Virginia. Joe continues to make statewide contributions to the advancement of social work as well as being an ingenious inventor. Recently he created a line of bumper stickers about doing the hard work. In a phone conversation with him, Joe mentioned that people like certain outcomes without putting in the hard work to produce them.

In our blog Difference without Distance we wrote:

“When people can understand each other in spite of differences, then those differences create space for each person to be authentic. Criticizing people for differences can cause them to agree with thoughts that are contrary to their own for the purpose of being accepted by individuals or groups.”

Doing the hard work is the next step toward understanding differences. It requires action to allow others to be unlike you without losing your sense of value, beliefs and purpose…in essence, your authenticity.

As social workers, we teach clients how to communicate when they don’t agree. Take the example of the feuding couple that comes to therapy to resolve their communications issue. The first thing the therapist notices when they explain why they are there, is that neither listens to the other. Instead, they blame each other for the problem at hand. The therapist shifts the focus from “blaming” to “listening.” Hearing each other’s perspective is the first step in problem-solving. Listening is an action.

In another example, a social work department discussed the results of the last presidential election at a staff meeting. One worker felt uncomfortable discussing his view because it was different from what his colleagues were expressing. When the group asked if he agreed, he hesitated then said, “It’s too soon for me to comment yet.” He remained neutral on the topic. Choosing to be neutral is an action.

In the recent Obama Foundation Summit, the 44th President addressed the audience about “a woke call out culture.”  He stated that there is a danger in the thinking of certain young people. They believe that the way to make change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people…and that’s enough. The past President added that life is messy and casting stones at others in order to feel good, is not productive. The example he gave was correcting someone’s grammar publically on social media. When we do this for the purpose of making oneself look “woke” or more knowledgeable by “calling out” another person’s error, in our estimation is being condemnatory. Being non-judgmental is a more productive action.

We brainstormed some reasons with Joe for why people don’t do the hard work of being open to others. The short list of reasons included laziness, fear of rejection, and not knowing how to express differences. Hard work includes:   

  • listening
  • choosing to maintain authenticity; if you feel yourself getting sucked into the negative
  • learning to communicate differences without casting stones (being non-judgmental)

In this entry, we put our spin on Joe Lynch’s idea. We invite him to be a future guest blogger to share his bumper stickers and views on doing the hard work in his own words!

If you are a member of NASW, be sure to read our upcoming article on Millennials in the Viewpoint Section of the Dec/Jan edition of Social Work Advocates.