In case you missed the first installment: At 24 years of age, after an impressively protracted derelict adolescence culminated in broke, broken, homeless desperation bad enough to make me feel sorry about how I was living, I figured it was time to “get it together.” So off I went to my community college to begin a career in “mental health” work, to get my head out of my punk ass and serve people with much bigger problems than mine. Semester one was filled with optimism, a real conviction that even one person can make a difference and inject just a little bit of hope into the world.
Little did I know…
Spring semester begins, and suffice it to say that the novelty has worn off. The work has grown tedious and dry, consisting of endless hours of studying theories of personality and behavior written exclusively by old rich white men several decades before, in a time and place bearing little resemblance to the one we live in now. Like politicians who live under a shelter of privilege most people can’t fathom, who conversely can’t imagine how most of their constituents live, these stuffy intellectuals were in over their heads but too powerful to ever get called out on it. The over-elaborate wording amounts to nothing but a smoke-and-mirrors distraction from the fact that the one-size-fits-all reductionism of their theories can’t even begin to describe the complexities of the psyche.
How was this supposed to teach me compassion?
Even when I got my nose out of the textbook and took a look around the classroom, hoping to find substance in what my peers had to say, I still didn’t like what I saw. Sure, there were some whose hearts were in the right place, but they were growing tired and wary like me. Those who had once offered the most interesting contributions to class discussions were now sullenly silent. By semester’s end, many of them had switched majors.
It gets worse. Frankly, not everyone’s hearts were in the right place even to begin with. I couldn’t help but notice a cynical attitude, a belief that this is just a job like any other, that the sooner you can cross “get a real career” off your to-do list and start making big bucks, the better. They could have just as easily been business majors; these poor people they were supposed to help were nothing but numbers to them.
Being that this is America, that wasn’t too surprising. But there was a more disturbing ulterior motive, a subtler one, at work among some of my peers. The ones who wouldn’t stop talking about themselves or giving unsolicited advice, whose presentations dragged out well past the allotted time limit, who wouldn’t let up until all eyes and ears were on them. I hope they eventually took a step back and asked themselves just who they were really out to help.
This might have been enough to turn off many people, but not me. I’m the stubborn type, and I had dug my heels in too deep to just walk away from a life-altering commitment. I was not about to admit defeat…
Next week, I’ll tell you all about where that got me.