Belief into action – individual dignity and worth

Joshua - Pearland, Texas
Entered on December 12, 2008

I believe in the dignity and worth of everyone. I know this sounds like something social workers put on holiday cards, and it is. I should know, because I’m a social worker who puts stuff like this on holiday cards.

It sounds nice – dignity and worth of the person. But I believe that a nice concept or theory without action is hollow. As a social worker, I work with and on behalf of folks that have been treated without dignity. They’ve been told for most of their lives that they do not possess worth.

I’ve been incredibly lucky that I had two parents who loved me, built my self-esteem, and molded my character. I didn’t realize what a gift this was until I saw the absence of these things in the lives of clients. I still can’t fathom starting so far behind in life. I’ve also looked around at the successful people I know, and they all share one trait in common – confidence that comes from self-worth.

So while I’m working on helping a client with a current problem, I’m also thinking about what she needs to be successful in the long run. More often than not, it is the quiet confidence that comes from self-worth. She can use help in a lot of other areas, but with a belief in her own worth and a sense of dignity, she can accomplish almost anything.

Everyone has heard the expression about teaching a person to fish. I believe it is more important to help that person trust in their ability to catch fish – the technical fishing skills can come later.

So how does this belief translate into action? I help provide services to people, but more importantly help them to implement these services in ways that builds their self-worth. I make car loans to single mothers, many of whom had the courage to leave bad relationships but ruined their credit in the process. They can’t get a car loan in the traditional marketplace; the predatory sector is designed to make them fail.

The program I work in, Ways to Work, not only provides the loan, we provide financial education and a one-on-one mentoring relationship. What the program doesn’t do is give handouts or grants. By repaying the loan, these women rebuild their credit and their self-worth. Should these loans be made? Not according to their credit score. The loans are character loans – saying “yes” and taking a chance on someone when the world is telling them “no”. And I’ve learned that most people would prefer a chance to succeed with a loan rather than just a handout.

I believe in the dignity and worth of everyone. I believe words without action are hollow. I believe my relative blessings in life are an obligation. And for me, this means saying “yes” to people, so they can start saying “yes” to themselves. This I believe.