I think about class standing a lot. My lawyer friends think about the law, my academic friends seems to spend their days opining. So I think it only natural that I, someone neck deep in social services, think about poverty. But just as any sociologist would tell you, you can’t take the research subject out of the research, not when the focus is social. This idea holds true in the work I do in social services, and I know occurs to many of my colleagues as well.
I don’t just think about the poverty status of others, I think about the privileges I have in life and how that contrasts to the people we serve. At times I get external pressure to move out of the social service sector, that a career in social services is a “get poor quick” scheme. So the saying goes that with the privileges I’ve had in life such as a good upbringing and a fantastic education, that I don’t belong in social services.
I had an interesting exchange the other day with a person who shall remain nameless, but is very dear to me. She argued both that poverty is such a complex problem that it is insolvable, and that I am too bright and too well educated to work in social services. I asked her “if I am so well educated, and so bright, then shouldn’t I use my talents on the most complex and important social issue we face as people?”
Making money is very doable. Selling products to people who have everything, specializing in the happiness of people numbed by pampering and entertainment, we’re collectively good at that. Providing opportunity to the one in five kids living in poverty, or the 50% of youth who will be on Food Stamps at some point in their childhood, these are things we suck at.
I am exactly where I belong. In going exactly where I belong, I realize I have been to places I probably should never have been. I have been in neighborhoods that people like me don’t frequent, befriended people who, due to class standing, should be invisible to me. I work twice as hard as the people who would otherwise be my peers for a fraction of the pay. And I really couldn’t care less.
I get the point, if I weren’t in social services I could have a nicer place, a nicer TV, and my ex-girlfriend. I assure you, I don’t want any of it. I am exactly where I belong.