Don’t freak out; I’m going to talk in the abstract. Although I am a social worker after all, so I imagine you have an idea which way I lean politically. My personal politics are not the point of this post, though. The point is about how politics intersect with our work and how to manage that.
An ad keeps coming up in my Facebook feed. It’s for a seminar or something about how to navigate political conversations with our clients as social workers. I haven’t clicked on it because it gives me major anxiety. Talking about politics with anyone gives me major anxiety. I don’t think I can do it without getting emotional, so I mostly avoid it. I know this isn’t exactly helpful. I hear the dialogue about how we need to talk to each other, to find common ground. I can find common ground with almost anyone; but I don’t want to do it through a political lens.
I especially struggle with this when I’m with my patients. The area I cover for work varies socio-economically but the vast majority of my patients are firmly in the lower middle class. They own their own homes, they collect Social Security, they have Medicare. Some of them have very strong opinions about politics that I, quite honestly, disagree with vehemently. But I don’t engage in those discussions; I change the subject as soon as possible.
Is that the right thing? I justify it to myself this way: I’m not there for that. I’m not a political leader or a social justice warrior. Of course social justice and change are in the nature of our work but I’m a clinical social worker. I sort of hide behind the need to build a strong relationship; and how can I build a strong relationship if I probe into someone’s politics? Personal values are one thing. But a patient’s views on voter fraud and emails and whatever other awful buzzword that’s on Fox News right this minute? I can’t go there.
See, even in my “abstract” writing, I let my leanings show. I can’t keep it together.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think most of my co-workers feel similarly. Especially in this political climate, conversations about current events are difficult to navigate. So what’s the solution? Honestly, I don’t know. How do you navigate when someone brings up politics? Give me your favorite responses.