Depending on who you are, you are going to view change differently. In some ways it’s what we strive for, what we hope for, what we feel we deserve. I often tend to think that passionate social workers and activists are those that think the status quo is not acceptable, that things must change, that we must be part of the effort to make that change happen. On the other hand, change can be terrifying, threatening. Especially to the veterans who’ve seen so much and who’ve done so much, the rhetoric of change thrown around by newly enrolled idealists looks naive and may not merit much response other than an annoyed eye roll. When it’s the new leaders who are the vanguards of change, then what used to be an annoyance suddenly becomes an existential threat. This is why when leadership changes and the leaders and the deputies want honest opinions and feedback from those who’ve been around since way long ago, what they get are usually terse, nervous utterances, if not avoidance and silence.
This dynamic is there before we even get to talking about what change should actually look like. Because of a hierarchy and power structure in place, dialogue and communication about change can be difficult. This is true even if the above example is flipped around on its head. What if it’s the leaders who are the guardians of the status quo and the newly included members are the ones aching and pressing for change? The tension is less about change and more about power. Until the discomfort around the distribution of power is addressed, concept of change is a concept that will be viewed differently depending on which position you occupy.
Currently, I happen to occupy a position of immense power. Even as a social work intern, I have to realize that I’m connected to some of the most powerful people in the arena of homeless services in NYC. This is kind of an awkward thing to realize for me. I mean, yes, I’m used to being to the more privileged figure in a client-worker dynamic, but in the macro world, the power dynamic is magnified to an almost incomprehensible degree. Even if I intend the opposite I sometimes feel like my mere presence is somewhat intimidating. Throughout this school year, this is one of the most important thing I must learn how to address well. I do think positive change is possible and it can be done without triggering too many unintended negative consequences. But it’s very important that the change be as less top-down as possible. Change cannot be forced; it must be arrived at together with the efforts of every team member. Within a large power structure with very few people at the top with a lot of power and authority, this is surely a very challenging task.
At least I can always get behind the cover of, “I”m just an intern.” I respect people’s honest opinions and feedback – including ones that disagree with and challenge my views and understanding – and I really mean it. Ultimately I’m not the one making the decisions. I happen to inform and maybe influence with my actions and words the people who make the decisions, but again, I’m not the one making the decisions. So to me, change is something I myself am still personally a bit detached from. It’s something I indirectly affect. There are sure of course bound to be occasions in which I am the one making change happen, but that’s not my role. It’s not my desire to get embroiled in the many layered tensions within the power structure. I just want to be able to understand what the change should look like, how we can and should achieve that change. As an intern, I have a unique opportunity to be able to do so. What that change will ultimately be, how it’ll ultimately be carried out… I can only hope it happens with considerations of everyone’s input. Cause otherwise, if change is something that’s forced on a majority, it’s a change that will be resisted and thereby it’s change that will not last long.