One of the things that I appreciate about social work is that there is an abundance of things to do. You aren’t required to stay doing the same thing for decades at a time. There’s room to try something different and learn a completely new set of skills while still working in the field. One thing I’ve noticed is that while people are all different, they share a lot of commonalities as well. There’s a video that went viral recently where a lady was recounting her experience at a popular store. She observed a customer being nasty to a cashier that appeared flustered and to be having a bad day. After confronting the customer, the cashier shared that he had had a very recent tragic loss and was struggling to pay rent. The lesson from the story is that you never know what someone is going through so be kind to everyone. The holidays can bring up so many emotions for people as they remember loved ones they miss and re-hash old wounds with family members. It’s a time that many people are especially fragile and as someone who has worked in mental health, I’ve noticed there’s a increase in suicide attempts after major holidays. This isn’t an appeal for world peace (as much as we need it). Just a reminder to try to be a bit more patient and kind as you interact with people. You don’t know their stories.
One of the few perks of working a job with ungodly hours is the fact that there are times where I have a little bit of time during the week to do my own thing. Last week, in the spirit of my goal of traveling a lot more this year (as always) I made a quick trip back to the South to do some laundry and get my hair done by someone halfway competent. I don’t normally go halfway across the continent to do laundry and chill for all of one day but the flight was free and the checked bags were free and it certainly beat a trip to the laundromat contemplating the intricacies of my life while waiting for my clothes to dry and wasting an afternoon. But I digress. Other than the unseasonably bitter cold that happened to be the current climate at the time, I had an interesting experience right fresh off the plane. I went with the other passengers in the mad rush to the baggage claim only to stand around for about a half out before the bags were put on the conveyor belt. Since the biggest goal of my trip was doing laundry, I didn’t really pack a lot. I just dumped my dirty clothes hamper into the biggest suitcase I had and lugged it with me. Wonderful strategy. So my bag finally appears on the belt and at that point I was just ready to grab it and go. Mind you, it’s a pretty good sized suitcase but not so big that I can’t pick it up. It’s just bulky. So as I’m reaching for my bag I see a hand in my peripheral vision but ignoring its relevance to my situation I just ignore it and heft the bag over the belt onto the ground and come eye to eye with a man who looks pissed off. He immediately starts to chastise me for not allowing him to get my bag off the belt. He vehemently reminds me that I’m now in the South and that there’s no excuse for me not to allow a man to get my bed because chivalry is still alive and well. I was pleasantly amused by the experience and it was a nice reminder that there are some really good qualities about Southern culture. It’s funny how much you can miss those little things when you don’t live in that environment anymore but it’s also interesting how you learn to adapt and go without them because they aren’t even an option. If anything like that happened where I live it would be a big deal because it is SO rare. Even the nice gesture of having doors opened surprises me every time that it happens because it is not a common occurrence. Definitely a contrast to the societal norms of the South.
I feel like giving a warning that this blog post will be somewhat off the wall. It’s the Christmas season and one of the things society seems to do is acknowledge and provide services for people they’ve ignored all year. We buy presents and volunteer our time to help the needy. Part of my job is working with kids who have come from abusive situations with different challenges and providing a variety of social work related services to them. In addition to the work done by staff, there are community members and volunteers who have stepped up to do great things for the kids. They’ve sacrificed their time and their resources to do something extra special for kids who may not have ever had someone care about them. And while some of these contributions come during the holiday season, others come throughout the year. Yesterday I had the chance to witness a community contribution to the kids. There was a group of local businessmen who wanted to do something special and buy gifts for all the kiddos. I’m going to take a quick break from the story to share an observation/insight. I don’t know if it’s the media or society in general, but we are really conditioned to associate masculinity with ginormous American-built trucks. A man who drives a Ford F-250 with an extended bed and a lift kit is miles ahead of the man saving the environment in a Toyota Prius. At least in certain regions of the country. Needless to say, the trucks they drove were of the aforementioned category. It would be unfair to the integrity of the story not to mention the fact that these businessmen appeared to be in their late 20’s early 30’s and were also very very extremely attractive (you get the point). But I digress. The trucks were filled with presents for the kids and every single kid got one. Many times in these situations the toys come as a result of a toy drive and aren’t necessarily specific to what the kid wanted. There’s also usually a price limit that while reasonable doesn’t always meet the wants of the kids. However these kids had all submitted a wish list and these guys had gone out and bought what the kids asked for. They were not cheap gifts. Jordan’s, huge toy sets, electronics, and $100 gift cards were among the gifts given to the kids. It was wonderful to see the kids faces light up with joy as they got what they had asked for. It was just as fun for the guys giving out the gifts. I’m reminded of the reasons why philanthropy is so important. Giving of yourself is great, but you can also have a significant impact when you have the monetary means to help as well. I don’t know how many times I’ve wished I could give to a particular cause or wish that I’ve had more to give to a particular cause. That being said, I want to have the means to not only set up my kids to be in a great financial position but also to make a sustainable difference in the lives of others. Getting a building named after you is good, but we can’t forget the importance of investing in people. That wasn’t off the wall at all.
There are few things that I find more irritating and annoying than the lack of chivalry around me. No, I’m not going to go on a rant about how I’m entitled to be catered to for the sheer reason that I’m a female. I don’t expect that although being catered to would be nice. What I think would be something as small as offering to lend a hand when I’m moving substantial items instead of selectively ignoring me. While I’m perfectly capable of doing this, offering to help–or better yet, actually helping out says more about character than words ever will. I know that the women’s liberation movement has cast a shadow on some of the old practices but hey, I’m actually rather old fashioned in that regard. In the past two years I can probably count the times I’ve had a door opened for me on two hands or less. That’s common courtesy to me but I guess that’s not the case to others. But all that being said, I can’t neglect the fact that I think that chivalry is a two way street. It’s never ok to ignore a nice gesture without a “thank you.” People will continue to practice behaviors that they feel appreciated for. If there’s no gratitude, the likelihood of the behaviors continuing is small. Small gestures of kindness go a long way and tend to come back to you in some form. Chivalry is a great thing–when it is appreciated and I fear we’ve lost that ability. Kudos to the guys that practice it despite negative reactions. Y’all are truly an endangered species.