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CYC-Online Issue 100 MAY 2007 / BACK
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the profession in other places

The fight we have lost in the fighting?*

Jeannie Karth

The words most often used together with “fighting” are against, with, for, about, over. I want to suggest that fighting in any way other than for something is what causes us to lose the fight – and this is nowhere truer at the present than in the Child and Youth Care field in South Africa, where not only do we seem to be losing the battle against abuse in its myriad forms (and see the horror left in its wake for the children in our care) but the battle for the field as a whole.

A fight is not necessarily a bad thing. If we are passionate about something we fight for it; it is a measure of our engagement with life, that we put our all into things we believe in. We struggle, we fall, we pick ourselves up, we go on in extraordinary circumstances – we fight, we don’t give up, we have hope.

But what is it about us that causes us continually to puff up our egos with “wins”, while those who lost slink away to smaller lives or to plot revenge and come back with guns blazing. Always in such battles there is loss – and in our field it is more often than not the children who lose – in battles they never asked for and don’t participate in. It does seem to me that in our world it is the ego in its wilfulness and immaturity that pits one family against another, brother against sister, parent against child and nation against nation. We don’t like to hear that others have found truth in a religion other than ours, that others enjoy relationships other than ours, that others have experienced success that we haven’t. Humans so often want for themselves what others have – or want it all for themselves. Is it greed, is it power, is it selfishness.

What is it that makes us fight against and not for. The term “against” immediately suggests an “other” who must be wiped out or somehow we feel that we are less. Each time we are against someone, we too are guilty of making the world a worse place. Every action of mine affects the whole in some way. I am responsible for me and you and you and you.

If we look at the Child and Youth Care field in South Africa it seems we have for so long battled against others who do not see our worth or who feel threatened by us. Why is it that the vision of all of us putting our strengths together and fighting for the rights of young people is a mere daydream. Why do we find colleagues fighting against one another in institutions, fighting against the children we care for, fighting against the principles we put in place to keep us all on track. When Rome is burning, as it is here with our increasing drug problems, the single parent who is not coping, the teachers who are not managing in the classrooms, society which is plagued by crime, surely we need each and every one who is committed to helping in what ever way they can. When people are threatened they become defensive “simple survival strategy. So when we say we are against something or someone, the battle begins. If social workers are against child care, it feels as if it is us they are against and we become defensive and form battle lines. Would it not be more useful if we sat down in counsel with one another and battled together for answers.

The great spirit certainly has an abundance outlook – only watch the Planet Earth series for one hour to realise how much there is in life and of life. “We are awash in a sea of possibilities.” When we think with our egos we usually think with a meanness of spirit. There is enough for everyone if we only all battled together for one another.

There is more than enough work for both social workers and child care workers, each in their own way. And there are many ways – each with its own wisdom. And we all become more as we share in and learn about these ways with others. And yet we continue to make the small mean choices that harm and hurt. Can we not learn to celebrate the abundance of life and the endless possibilities open to us that offer answers to our many problems – the more ways the more answers surely.

Eliot again -

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images and cling
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing


Can we not find it within us, within our own great spirit “the ability to care for each and every suffering thing together. Let us go to that place that Rumi spoke of “the place where there is no right or wrong“ and meet one another there.

* T.S. Eliot posed the question: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”


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