I love watching videos of wild horses running over open fields in Wyoming or Montanna. They are beauty, grace and ferocity in motion. And they answer to no man.
I read that wild horses are very hard to domesticate. The term “breaking” is used, as in breaking their untamed spirit , so that they can be useful. It hurts my heart to watch the process of bending a free spirit to the will of his owner. But I understand the need to be patient in the process. If done right, the process is slow, methodical, and designed not to frighten or hurt the stallion, but to introduce control little by little.
One of the last steps in the breaking process is the introduction of the bit into the horses mouth allowing the rider to “steer” the horse with the attached reins. Trying to put a bit into the mouth of a stallion can be perilous. The bit is so small compared to the thousand pounds of muscle that is the horse. But once the horse accepts and stops fighting against the bit, the rider can control where they go and what they do.
By controlling the mouth, the rider controls the horse.
How does this fit in with Social Work?
What do you think is the most powerful tool in our social work tool box?
A Master’s Degree? No. While the knowledge acquired through a MSW degree substantially increases your understanding of people and their environments, it’s not the most powerful tool.
Dedication and commitment? Empathy? Experience? No. Again those are all needed tools but how you handle the most powerful tool will always affect your ability to collaborate for positive change.
The most powerful tool?
Your mouth. Your words can bring life or death to an empathetic response.
While working with families do you bring life? Are your words chosen to reflect your active listening? Are they used to encourage growth and offer praise when growth is seen?
Or do you speak without measuring your words in a frustrating situation to throw shame and guilt (without even knowledge or intent.)
Words can carry hidden messages such as: I believe in you…you are worth it… or I think you are worthless. Words spoken in anger can cut. Words spoken without thinking can as well.
A group of workers were together in a unit meeting discussing a case that had stagnated. The supervisor encouraged each worker to discuss an idea to regain positive movement. Clearly in “fix-it” mode, he briefly listened as each worker offered a thought before quickly dismissing them with a curt…”no. That wont work!”
There was no intent to hurt feelings or to imply that no one’s ideas were good enough. But that is what happened. He later realized that his staff no longer responded to his request for ideas because they thought he would shoot them down.
That is an example of not taming your words and speaking without thought of your audience.
I have spoken thoughtlessly before and it took a special peer to make me aware so that I could be more mindful of how words could affect others. I would not intentionally cause distress with my words, but I realized that it was my responsibility to be mindful of everything that came out of my mouth.
I heard a good piece of advice from a respected colleague regarding “speaking my mind”.
” It’s not that you shouldn’t be honest and say what is on your mind. You should! Just before you speak that first thing that comes to your mind … stop. Skip to the 2nd or even the third choice of how to express it”. Its about mindfulness and self awareness.
So yes, words can cut…but words also have an incredible power to heal. I have seen such positive changes take place in the lives of others when words were used in a kind and positive way.
Working with victims of violence can be heart breaking and even frustrating. Their experiences bring on trauma behavior, self destructive acts and self blame. When working with this population, it is imperative that you use your words mindfully and carefully. Instead of phrases like”why did you do that. What’s wrong with you?” Use “what happened to you? Or affirming phrases such as, “I am here to listen and to help.” Just a measured, empathetic response can demonstrate your understanding of their pain and your willingness to walk with them.
Challenge: Mind your words. Just as the tiny bit can control a wild horse, your words can control how you perceive and how you are perceived as a social worker. Speak your mind but control your words.