I’ve been working my way through a really cool course… it’s all about how those of us who work with Indigenous people can cultural safety in our practice. I have to admit, I was skeptical about how painful it might be to do an online course – but it’s really well done, and I’ve quite enjoyed it If you are interested, you can learn more about it here.
However, it’s not to plug this course that has led me to this post today. I had a bit of an “aha” moment when I was working my way through a section today that I really wanted to share.
They were talking specifically about the experience of Indigenous people with the health care system, and how so many times, people’s different experiences, perspectives and beliefs are not valued. The comment was made that we should not approach Aboriginal people as if we know what’s best for them. The importance of listening, and working to understand where a person is coming from and what is important to them is key in truly helping a person. For example, it’s easy to tell a person that they should be eating a healthier diet, but without listening, you might not find out the challenges of doing so in a remote community where fresh fruit and vegetables are not readily available or financially reasonable to purchase.
What struck me is that this is really true for every person in a helping relationship. It’s so easy to think that we have all the answers and know what’s best for a person. But each person is truly unique – with a different balance of basic needs, and different preferences about how to achieve these needs. What works for me to fill my need for connection with others may totally backfire for someone else. The things that make me feel powerful and like I can make a difference in the world are not the same as they are for others. My idea of fun and freedom is not skydiving out of an airplane – but it is for many other people.
Yet, it’s so easy when we are working with people to make judgments and think we know the answers to people’s struggles. I know I catch myself all the time thinking “If only this person would….”, without really honoring the fact that whatever they are doing they are doing for a reason. If only I was able to slow down and explore the reasons, perhaps I could be a better helper….
Perhaps those of us in the helping professions need to ask ourselves – are we simply telling people what to do, or are we seeking to truly understand and help people find what’s right for them?