By Poonam Gulalia
In the world of social work which is a practice-oriented discipline students are attempting to apply the concepts of the discipline while addressing issues & concerns in working with people. It is the fieldwork practicum which is understood as an essential component and that which distinguishes social work from other social sciences. The idea for looking for order and meaning and making sense of everyday realities is of help to student learners who deal with social realities on a day-to-day basis. Social workers operate in environments where there is some aspect of inequality and injustice and attempt to enable students make meaningful out of various forms of engagements with people.
Their field placement opportunities begin to teach them how it is possible to break boundaries with others. In interacting with each child, woman, client, beneficiary, outreach worker or field contact they begin to understand that each one is a victim of their own conditioning in the same way as the learner themselves are conditioned by their own circumstances. It was a semblance of empathy and sympathy which enabled some of them to see how best to perceive life through the eyes of those around them in the community and in the agency. By standing back and feeling out the situation and the context they were able to get some perspective which led them to act more skilfully in subsequent visits and future interactions.
As a consequence of these experiences, the pertinent questions which emerged in working with people were :
a) How does a student learner use his/ her own circumstances to engage in dialogue?
b) Are there differences in the way the student will handle situations in the here and now having taken lessons from earlier learnings? If so , how and why?
c) What is the value in noticing phenomena which is external and internal?
e) How conscious or mindful is the student in perceiving his/ her own aggression towards the situation or towards oneself? By virtue of habit, are we merely responding to the situation?
In many situations, students have reported that these experiences taught them transcendence and gave them something to work towards namely, what does this have to do with the peace they are looking for in the situation?
One of the underrated values which is learnt and taught while working with individuals is patience. In the field which is our concurrent field of practice for student learners, patience is a gift we give to other people. There are times when things get difficult for students and it is this quality of patience which they are able to develop which enables destruction of and diluting of aggression, ill-will, hatred and violence, both communicative and non-communicative. In engaging with people the attempt needs to be in having conversations and dialogues such that they are centred around investigating what is going on in their day-to-day lives but also in their minds and hearts. In doing so, students also begin to reflect on whether the attempt is to be peaceful, gentle in one’s approach or whether the interaction is brewing and begetting anger and revenge towards others and oneself. It enables them to begin to raise questions such as:
a) As student learners and mentors how do we talk to each other?
b) Are the conversations we are having on a regular basis with people encouraging and uplifting for the students and others as well?
c) How often are we mindful? Is our speech always productive?
How are we doing learning differently? And what does it have to do with values and ethics? It was in one of the supervisory meetings that a student reported that while working with individuals little did he realize that compassion is acceptance and kindness to the way things are with him and with the society he lives in and encounters on a day-to-day basis. Quoting from his summary recording “When I began to welcome the fear which I was confronted with at fieldwork, I gradually began to touch a silence behind the fear. And strangely, the fear began to fall away. I realized that I can live life from thought but I can also live from the heart. All along, I had been taught that living life from the heart meant being emotional and subjective. Little did I realize that living life from the heart actually implied having the freedom to watch! I was afraid of failure and afraid of competition and my social world had merely taught me to be competitive. By being competitive I had taken too much upon myself and I was feeling overwhelmed when I was working with people in the field. I would get into a depressed state of mind after returning to my hostel. It was self-retreat which taught me what a humbling painful experience I was going through. The entire year of being at field taught me that both compassion and generosity were methods towards my own transcendence I needed to come to terms with myself before I could reach out to others.”
'It was my thinking mind which was powered by giving instructions and engaging conceptually with thoughts. I realized that my thinking mind is constantly in the doing mode. It forces me again and again to build narratives and there are coloured flavours of the agitated heart that distorts the reality. First I need to restrain my mind I was constantly trying to control that which is uncontrollable. Moreover, my sense of self was arising from my sense of control over others. My idea of self as a doer was prompting me to ask more and more questions. In fact, it is when the mind does not have an agenda that I could relax. Constantly my mind was driving me to ask: “What will happen after this?” It was only when I tried to clean up this business of becoming something that I was at peace with myself. If we are at home with ourselves, then we are able to deal with the world in the right way. No doubt it is the tendency of the mind to retreat into comfort and security but I realized that we don’t need to believe everything that we think.
In understanding and appreciating the difference between our responses and reactions, I came to realize that the former is a rational, judicious wise discernment based on wisdom and understanding. The latter is irrational, auto-piloted mode of being judgemental based largely on biases and perceptions.
Poonam Gulalia works as a Fieldwork Coordinator with the School of Social Work, TISS. She has been a practitioner for several years now, and she attempts to learn from the students she mentors.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed by experts on 'Banter and Bonding' are their own, and not that of the website or TISSAA)