Today in encouraging people

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in | Posted on 12:35 AM


Sometimes, seemingly out of nowhere, people seem to come into my life who are hurting, en masse. Sometimes I can do nothing about it; I can't spare the time or emotional energy to deal with it. For some reason, right now, I seem to have that energy, I suspect because I'm procrastinating doing more data analysis on dead children.

I spent two hours today trying to convince a colleague to stay in college. He's burnt out the way poor kids get burnt out by the death-march that is trying to climb out of poverty via education, when you don't have the resources to help you climb and (typically) no one to talk to about it: you have nothing in common with family and friends, they can't help you pay for anything, and you know exactly how easy it is to fail and fade into obscurity like everyone you know, with all the health and economic problems which go with that fade.

It's all many people can do to get by, and in some ways being in graduate school insulates you from parts of that struggle by offering you hope. But that hope is poisonous; it takes you away from everything you know and everyone who loves you. He, like many of us, is driven to help, and depressed by how little he can help.

And the faculty in the department have not helped. Several have gone out of their way to give grim, depressing accounts of the job market, telling us they don't know if we'll find employment. I showed him the latest stats from the Dept of Labor Statistics and the American Sociological Association, which put unemployment in our field at one percent. I could see the weight rolling off him.

As we parted, he said, "I like talking to you. I always feel so hopeful when we're done."

I smiled. Two minutes later, someone I know contacted me on messenger who needed to talk about her legal woes.

I'm tired; really, really tired. But grateful that the people around me believe I am worth trusting. I can encourage my colleague because I know his situation. I know all about that burnout, the fear that no matter what you do, you won't be able to climb out, and that the debt you have incurred trying to climb will make things so much worse.

I can talk to my friend about these legal woes because she helped me. To encourage, I listened. It's amazing how much of encouragement is listening, asking questions, repeating back and reminding.

Or in the case of my colleague, contesting some bullshit with facts.

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