A personal reflection from one of our site contributors Brandon Haydon, LCSW.

Cura Personalis Influences in Social Work

Cura-Personalis_PhotoI completed my MSW at Jesuit institution. While not a particular faith attendant myself, I chose to study at this institution for three main reasons: their renown for clinical training, their apparent devotion to diversity in faculty and course material, and because of one phrase in small italics that light me up while I read while researching just what the heck a Jesuit was:

“Cura Personalis”

Care for the entire person.

Social Work and Social Justice in Academics

The axiom of Ignatian stewardship and the hallmark of the Jesuit tradition.  How readily we as aspiring social workers can resonate with such a sentiment. How fitting for our mission, this guiding principle that reminds us that just as harm is not isolated in its impact, neither can be the approach to repair. In my academic journey I have come to recognize the profound impact language has on the implications of our values, our sociopolitical positioning, our self-awareness, and our understanding of the syntax of social justice.

Care for the Entire Civilization

Civilization is an emergent process comprised of interacting and transacting systems, we recognize that things like abuse and violence are also not singular acts based on lapsed virtues or defects of character, but rather symptoms of processes themselves. Violence is a process. Suffering has a system reference. That is, a prompt, trigger, or survival reward present in our environment. Violence emanates as an almost inevitable or necessary byproduct of a social structure that is predicated upon differential advantage, and the pervasive superstitions about order, morality, economy, and human nature that trigger our capacities for harm. Many of our current socioeconomic paradigms have such triggers for violent and selfish behavior built right into them. And when we implement punitive ways of societally coping, such as incarceration, isolation, even execution, we treat violence with violence. Yes, our reptilian lower brains give us the capacity for neutralizing real or perceived survival threats with violence, competition, or ruthless greed, but our limbic brains offer us history and value. Our neo cortices are our key to the co-creation of our culture, our collaboration, our collective way of being – our key to harnessing the implications of humanity’s apparent status as the most powerful macro-organism on this planet. The humble crown that empowers us not to rule, but to serve with intentionality, to willfully share the adventure of our species and realize that individual elevation through narrow self-interest is often the flight into isolation.

By this, social work, social justice, and equality are inextricably reliant on our ability and diligence to locate ourselves within the social system. With every observation we make regarding things that seem so obviously aberrant like violence, we should be obligated to recognize how we exist in relation to the processes that give rise to violence. This, at least in part, is what is so crucial to about doing work to check our privilege. By recognizing where and how we move as both privileged and oppressed through society, we may better recognize the disparities in risk and safety in something so mundane as walking down a sidewalk in a certain neighborhood between us and others, depending on how much we incite or threaten those superstitions surrounding difference.

This reminds me of the crucial organism-to-environment, systems perspective required by both the assessment of our human being and the pursuit of justice (or rather, psychosocial equilibrium within the context of organized society?) and health in holistic measures.

But there is a question in there for the grappling: Let us contend that when equality is interpreted as sameness, then its connection to justice is distorted. How then do we account for the myriad variations in the human manifest, while striving to establish a cohesive social architecture?

Perhaps the answer is more fluid than structural.

We have come to understand that behavior is shaped contextually within cultural and social systems; communities share responsibility in the development of the individual, not just by way of laws and prescribed moral codes, but in access to resources and support for personal inquiry, exploration, and guidance. As social workers, we are poised to explore those interlocking intersections of social location and systems of development. Being conscious of how deeply significant and impacting this process is compels us to empathize with and affirm others who struggle with their innate “otherness” and whose wellness and potential are subject to the prevailing systems of values and norms which must be navigated, satisfied or challenged.

Solidarity, equality, is measured not by our sameness, but our alliance in celebrating the diversity of human experience, the variance of our expression, and the preservation of dignity, respect, and social justice. The task can seem gargantuan and daunting, but the choice to show up every day, to my own work and to my clients and communities, reverberates. Social work is an investment in the self and the world at large. At times it feels like a curious blend of science and faith. I have much work to do, and it begins with me.