" SpiritofSaltSpring:BC:Canada:GulfIslands:SaltSpring:Salt Spring:

May 12, 2010

Smiling at Diversity

Ghost Ranch door

You never know who's going to walk through the door. One day it might be an executive chef just returned from running the large kitchen at a resort hotel on a tropical island and the next, a woman who described herself as a Lama, (the first female Lama, she said) got an inheritance, became a daytrader and well, we could have predicted where that was going and where it did go. But why? I wondered. Why would a true Buddhist go there?

There are new arrivals from Quebec and Ontario with only the knapsacks on their backs and a plan to enjoy the summer and to see BC. There are truck drivers with Class 1 licences and a guy who counts fish off fish boats all over the coast and people with autism, one of them with the same abilities as the autistic man played by Dustin Hoffman in that old movie Rainman. He's really amazing with numbers. If you tell him what year you were born, he can tell you what you are in the Chinese Zodiac. I'm a Metal ox. My co-worker's a Water dog. The next time he came in, a week later, I asked him what my birthday was. He gave me the exact date and year with only a moment's hesitation. Wouldn't you just love your husband and boyfriend to have that ability?

People come in who need to work with Salt Spring Literacy but the ones who need it the most are usually not able to go there. If you have never learned to read and you're now 40 years old and all you've ever done is physical labour, how do you come up with the right reason for you to take yourself into a literacy centre and be vulnerable enough to admit that you can't read or write past a Grade 2 level and that you've just now found a good enough reason to begin to learn anew?

In contrast to that, I worked just yesterday with a woman who'd been a software developer for more than 20 years who now wants to work more with people and community. We did an amazing job mining her transferable skills over three attempts at reinventing her on paper. I like working with people who listen, do the work based on the feedback and as a result, see the results. Baby steps. She volunteered at the 2010 Olympics with an Eastern European team using her fluency in three languages to be a translator and support Athletes.

There are men still living in some past era controlling their wives lives as if this was 1922, thankfully, very few of those.  I consider them a lower level of species. As you can imagine, being who I am, itt takes everything I have not to just tell them to "speak to the hand"! Ug.

Mental health issues are a daily reality. We see when people improve, wonder if they're taking their medication regularly, and we see when they start to go downhill so to speak. When they are having a full-on conversation with themselves sitting in our office wondering why there aren't any jobs for them, it's sad. But we can truly see past that too. We see their intelligence because it's there and that's what makes it so sad. Their mental health burden has robbed their potential and their frustration is palpable and we wish we could help them but even with jobs, more often than not, we can't get them one. They get odd jobs with people in the community who either take advantage of them or with big hearts truly want to help them and give them something to do.

As just about anywhere in BC and Canada, Salt Spring island desperately needs funded positions that work one on one with youth and with people who live with some form of mental illness. There are some amazing people here who do that. But there needs to be more. There are people with some sort of challenge - mental illness and learning disabilities - who need one on one coaching on an ongoing basis and sympathetic employers to employ them so that they can be productive and not just wander around all day long. They want to work. If anything, the people I see who fit into this category want to work more than the rest of us do. (I should speak for myself!)

Addictions. Lots of addictions. I always try to remind myself that addiction equals pain. Pain came first. Then addiction. No judgement. There's no greater reason for Raffi's Centre for Child Honouring to exist than the fact that lack of love - parental love, self love leads to scenarios in life that take us down paths that mean we will be less than we can be. Period.

And then there are the people who are so insecure because of their personal histories that they can't bare to sit with you and have you review their resume because it's too scary for them while for us it's so obvious what's going on. They're usually the ones who say they are so fantastic,they can do anything and when they register they think they're doing us a favour because the government would get rid of our jobs if they didn't and hey, we have absolutely nothing to offer them.

Every day I am reminded how to be when I walk into a new environment and I need that reminder, don't we all?  If we could all just remember the following two things for starters, life might just get happier and easier.  I'm going to focus on this today and tommorrow, and okay, the next as well. 

1. Smile. Sometimes as the day wears on I forget to smile. I'm sitting at my desk and I'm the first person new clients meet. Smiling is so easy and yet in the middle of the day it's easy to forget to do it. Smiling equals openness and acceptance. I'm training myself to smile at every single person who walks through the door. Smile and look directly into their eyes when you say good bye. Smile more.

2. Let people help you!  When people want to help you, let them. If people have expertise that you don't, mine it. Let them share it. They want to. Maybe they're even being paid to share it. It's okay not to know what you have no way of knowing based on what your unique existence may have not yet taught you.

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