When I don’t get a grant or something else that I applied for, I am always told,
“Do not take it personally.”
But my work is personal!
The people I serve are personal to me!
When I started this journey my very wise mentor, role model and all around hero, Patty Gigging of Peace Over Violence told me, “Every ‘NO” is an invitation to a relationship. You must turn every ‘no’ into a ‘why not?’”
I remember sitting across from her at the breakfast table that day thinking ,you have got to be kidding me?
I need to write the grant proposal, not get it, AND THEN ask them why?
AND then engage in a relationship with them?
Well, she was right.
Sometimes the ‘why not’ is so much more important than the ‘yes’.
Dealing with the ‘no’ is how we learn, grow and understand.
As I was walking into the juvenile detention facility this week three of the participants in my group were helping the probation officer bring in a shipment of supplies to the camp.
They were busy and you could tell they had a sense of worth, because they were chosen to do this task, they were trusted to do this task.
They were standing in the entrance, giggling, giddy and altogether happy.
As another probation officer walked in for her shift, one of the girls with a big smile yelled,
“Hey there! Ms., you look hot!”
The woman smiled, the girl actually didn’t mean hot sexy, she meant hot –hot,
because it was hot outside and the probation officer looked sweaty.
The probation officer smiled and said, “Yeah, it’s nasty outside,” and walked away.
The probation supervisor in charge snarled at the girl.
“What are you doing yelling like that? Don’t go yelling out to people!
You wait until they greet you, then you talk!”
The girl’s reaction was like a puppy that just got scolded for chewing the couch.
Her entire body went from standing straight to being slouched.
Her big beautiful smile faded and she folded into herself.
“Gee, Ms., I didn’t mean anything!”
“Come on. Don’t take it personally.
I’m trying to teach you something,” the probation officer said.
Not personal! Why should things not be personal?
It was personal because it was said to her, because it affected her.
I recently did not get something I applied for.
Something I really, really wanted.
I was sad and disappointed. The competition was fierce.
Of coarse, it was personal.
Being personal didn’t mean that it affected my self-esteem or the fact that I know I am worthy or the knowledge that the work I do is important.
But it stung nevertheless. It was frustrating and I felt it.
I might not have been the right fit.
It was not meant to be.
There were others that had a better idea than mine.
The application process itself was an important exercise.
It made me think of a project I want to do.
It wasn’t the end of the world, and, of coarse, there will be many other opportunities.
BUT it WAS personal.
“I want to share something personal, Ms. Is that okay?”
“Of coarse, it is,” I say.
“It’s much more than okay,” I add.
How will we learn if we don’t share personal stories?
Okay! She smiles and shares her story of abuse and violation.
This one is strong and bold and I adore her already.
Everyone listens respectfully.
What I love about my girls in Juvie is that, with all their bullshit, when something is deep and personal, they are so respectful. They are attentive and present.
There is no giggling and no uncomfortable twitching.
They lean in, listen and show respect.
I am always in awe.
They all have been there. They don’t choose to detach.
They listen , catching the person who is falling.
Maybe, that is what the street has taught them.
Maybe, being incarcerated has given them this, or please God, maybe, just maybe I have succeeded in creating a safe space for these girls of mine.
You are too involved, I have been told.
You have lost proportion.
You take these kids too personally.
How can I not?
How can I be anything other than that ,when under the hard mask they wear,they are really so incredibly fragile ?
Being un-personal can lead to indifference.
People ask me why I do the work I do.
When they say, “It is not your world”
they wait to hear that someone in my family was incarcerated.
How will the world ever change if we don’t make the wrongs in it personal, important, and our duty?
Don't take it personally. It's the system.
It's not you. It’s me.
You are choosing to be hurt.
No one chooses to be hurt!
So the next time you are about to say it's not personal, see the person in front of you.
Take into consideration that for them, this might be more than you think.
Or it may be touching something you are not aware of.
Or maybe they understand or see a situation differently than you.
Maybe there are things you don’t know or see.
Take a breath. Look at them again and try to actually make it personal.
Because, ultimately, being personal is what makes us human!