Monday, November 26, 2007

Loving the Unlovable

In Meditations on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh squarely faces the issue of returning to Vietnam to try to heal the damage caused by war. He tells his colleagues that the people there will not be easy to love, nor will they be very happy to see them. In my own experience I find this to be true.

When I donate money to a charity, I choose how and where to give my money. When I volunteer at a local shelter or other service, I choose who I am going to help and how I will help them. People are generally appreciative of the work you do.

But as a career social worker, I do not get to choose who I will help and how. I am on the other end of a ringing phone and do not get to choose when to pick it up and how to help the people I speak with. Many of them are unlovable, to say the least, and are not happy to be speaking with me. I resolve their issues as quickly and easily as possible, which means that I have to tell a lot of people what they don't want to hear. But what I have learned is that it is possible to love the unlovable. Learn how you can do the same if you are caught in this situation:

1. Do not return anger with anger. Be stern, but don't be hostile. People are usually frustrated and have gotten the runaround. Be patient and ignore negative comments.

2. Be sympathetic. I could not imagine have several small children and no means to support them. Many women have been abused or abandoned. Put yourself in their shoes.

3. Don't tolerate abusive language. If someone is verbally abusive, you have the right to warn them that you will end the conversation. Helping someone does not mean you have to be a doormat.

4. Practice lovingkindness meditation. Practicing this meditation before working with those less fortunate may not alleviate the problems, but will make people easier to bear.

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