Interesting things happen when we stop swooping in.
May (not her real name) came to join Family Self-Sufficiency with a definite plan: she wanted to parley her cake-decorating and baking skills into a small catering business. I looked at her intake enrollment form and saw more than one hurdle.
- May had not attended school beyond the 10th grade,
- She had not held a full time (or part time) job in years,
- She seemed timid – almost shell-shocked, and I suspect she suffers from some sort of post-traumatic stress.
Our first rule at the BHA is to never turn anybody away. Some FSS programs will actively discourage a resident with May’s capabilities from her chosen path, but that’s a form of “swooping in” that has little result.
Most of us react to residents the way we do when a child we love is having trouble with a certain task:
- “Do it like this,” we urge.
- Or we explain what is wrong with their approach.
- Or we advise them to abandon the thing altogether and try something else.
The immediate result is that we feel we’ve solved something, but I wonder; could our point of view be too narrow?
Picking the wrong target.
Often we swoop in when we think something needs to be solved. But think back for a minute to the young child struggling to fit the wrong piece into her puzzle. Before jumping in to help, let’s ask ourselves about what we intend to accomplish.
What is our goal?
- Get that puzzle put together, every piece in order?
- Help her figure out for herself a way to think things through, come up with options, and pick a plan?
Different questions = different answers.
There are probably a few other goals we can think of for the above scenario, but we only come up with ideas when we broaden our target beyond that of solving a problem for someone. Interesting things happen when you don’t swoop in, I’ve found. So rather than turn May away from joining FSS, or advising her on a more suitable goal, I asked her a question. “A catering business,” I said warmly. “Why catering?”
Upon learning that people love the cooking she provides at church suppers, I asked the question I rely upon most. “So sometime within the next few months you hope to go into business. What do you think you should do first?”
May’s eyes crinkled in thought. She was beginning to see that there is a big difference between a wish and a plan. “I need a website.” She announced.
Now I knew of course that there are many other steps to opening a catering business BEFORE one puts up a website announcing service – especially if that service involves food preparation and delivery. But people learn best through discovery, so I asked, “Can you afford to hire a webmaster?”
When her face fell, I became encouraging. “Look, May,” I urged. “There are free sites on the internet that help people set up simple websites. Don’t you know somewhere you could take a computer class?’
I’m afraid I was right, but I could have easily been wrong!
At the end of her five-year term, the only thing May had accomplished was a short class on computer basics offered at her local Center for Senior Citizens. Along the way, however, some other good things happened as well:
- She developed a twinkle in her eyes,
- She gained a small measure of confidence.
- She returned to her personal counselor.
True, it turns out that May is not yet ready to open a catering business. But she made positive changes, hopefully because I refrained from swooping in with that determination, directing and deciding for her, taking away her right to self-determination.
And while she was on this road to discovery, I learned something valuable: make every interaction you have with those you meet on your path a positive interaction. You won’t do harm and you can’t go wrong.