Tabula Rasa


That feeling a lot of us are feeling….it just isn’t going away, is it?  It is not a case of “Bobby Ewing Taking A Shower”, which helped make a whole season of “Dallas” (the television dynasty show of the 1980s)  disappear with the stroke of a pen and it turns out it was only a dream.  This is a new kind of difficult intrusion in our daily thoughts.  There is a word we use in “social work-ese”.  It is called processing a situation. We assess, evaluate, and then assess again.  It leads to a clearer understanding of a situation and we call ourselves “reflective learners” as we rely on known strategies. We then create a plan going forward that will lead to optimal outcomes and a decrease (from a mental health perspective) in anxiety and worry.  Well, friends, it’s not working too well.  All that I think about when I think about processing is that “American Process Pasturized Cheese Food” which is yellow and fits on a piece of enriched white bread. Truth be known, I have turned to that in times of need of something comforting and grilled.

These days being a clinical social worker is no easy task.  It’s hard to manage to be empathetic, supportive and reassuring to others when your own core is jumping around.  Some might say that in fact, times like this must be “good for business”.  Yes, I am in an industry (though we don’t like to think of it as such, because it corporatizes work with people, alas), that probably won’t go out of business.  I sometimes imagine that possibility because it would be predicated on the idea that life was easy enough to handle and every person had their toolbox (another social work-y word) filled with those things that they could identify  and use when they needed to fix something… la la la.  When pigs fly.

The blackboard is there to remind me and you, if you consider it, a place to go back to restating the rules.  Civility must be in the forefront along with decency and recognition that we live among others and our behaviors translate into actions that keep us on track.                  I used to like to go up to the blackboard and solve equations, fill in information, and my best memory was being the scribe for other people’s answers or opinions.  Cleaning the erasers in some type of machine that slapped the felt pieces together was a privilege.  Not sure I ever aspired to that since chalk dust was nasty.  Erasing years of social progress is a chilling thought.  Think about the words that are on that blackboard and when you erase them, they are still there in the shadows.  We have all worked too hard, cried too many tears, and risked too much to stop now.

In general I like rules. They ground me and give me boundaries that I can live with.  I follow the rules that make sense to me. I question those rules that challenge my sensibilities.  As I child I observed how the rules made sense and created order in my child’s mind.  As an adult, I respond to structure and I encourage my clients to create their safe place by defining the rules that they can follow.  When conflict arises, in my own world or the worldview at large, I step back and contemplate what the next step might be.  I’m still in contemplative mode.  None of this is easy, now.  My voice is quiet at this moment.

What comes to mind now is a set of life rules that I have found allow me, and others to manage life in a straightforward fashion, day to day. I share them with the students I work with and somehow, as simple as they are, they resonate.  We often write them together to reinforce their power, which is our power.   I can evaluate how I am doing at the end of the day, and sometimes that is the best that can be done.  I only share them because  it’s all I have that makes me hope.  So here they are:

  1.  Learn something every day.
  2. Teach something every day.
  3. If you hurt someone’s feelings, apologize, and mean it.
  4. Be nice, cause you can never have too much nice in your life.




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