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Humanizing Human Services

It is not an understatement to say that Canadians are blessed. Far from perfect of course, most certainly a work in progress, Canada remains a beacon of light in a deeply complex global village. When we look outside of our borders, it is easy to share immense pride in our kind, inclusive character, our rich natural resources, enveloped around a pristine tapestry of floral and fauna, and of course our highly lauded commitment to inclusion where all are welcome. When we look from within our borders, the view is far more complex, nuanced, the light casts shadows of our colonial past, harsh realities and hard truths about the lived experience of diversity and the deep divisions we are collectively allowing to fester and grow against our collective wellbeing. Can these two truths exist at the same time? Can we love something deeply and know it can be more? Of course we can. Can we love something and question it’s values? Of course we can. Can we love something and challenge it’s construction? It’s architecture, if we truly love it then we are obliged to question it. We should want more from it shouldn’t we? At 155 years, Canada’s character continues to evolve, we continue to learn about ourselves, shift what we used to believe as truths about who we are with new wisdom and different perspectives, using different lenses to better understand our journey to where we are today. With that wisdom comes harsh truths about our colonial past, cruelty, patriarchy, misogyny, racism, homophobia, elitism, inequality, violence——truths that were left untold or cleansed so we could live with ourselves. This is the nature of patriarchy isn’t it? We know best, we will narrate your truth, we will narrow your view, we will sow fear and propagate hate so you won’t question or challenge our authority. But we all know that control can only hold for so long, truth always finds a way, human nature will question and test, and generations will pull away from narratives that no longer ring true, truth will surface. Shedding those beliefs and learning broader truths come with the gifts of understanding our true nature and purpose. Going deep to understand ourselves, to reconcile and break apart what was designed to hold us back is liberating, awareness however, is only part of the path to living up to our highest potential. The same miseducation, control and patriarchy that meant to limit our capacity was also used to create our institutions, systems of government and social constructs; they are woven into virtually every aspect of Canadian society. We can see it in health care, social services, children services …. virtually all human services, they are wired with the old colonial —-we know what’s best, we must control how you access and interface with our services, don’t question our authority. The starting assumption it seems is that those seeking services are not to be trusted, that they will either take advantage, that they must be managed, that they don’t know what is best for them. They are designed to assume the worst of us rather than give us the benefit of the doubt. And let me be clear here, I have deep respect, trust and admiration for those working in human services, I am in fact one of them, their intention is to be in service, that’s was brought them into their careers, it is the systems they are working in that are betraying them, making their jobs impossible at times. The core idea that government is here to serve it’s citizenry, it’s people, especially the most vulnerable, has been betrayed by the systems designed to assume the worst, give the least amount of support, confuse even those who are administering the programs and weave a web of complexity that invites us to give up and go it alone. And we’re told changing them would be far too hard and way too costly. The fact is we know more today than we every have, we can do more, we can do differently, we can actually design with empathy, design with those seeking services, break apart what doesn’t work. We can codesign compassionate service oriented systems that serve people, not cases, clients, patients or residents, but people who need us while facing some of the most challenging times of their lives. This is not the first time someone has called for sweeping change, a fundamental rethink…we’ve all heard it before —- that kind of change is impossible , ridiculous, way too difficult. Yet providing inadequate or inappropriate service is in fact costly and harmful. I once spoke about this at a gathering of mental health leaders at a speech I was doing in Ireland, and some of my colleagues applauded loudly, others said that what I was proposing sounded incredibly complex and in fact exhausting… But what are our options? Do we keep building services that treat symptoms over root causes? Complain and then tweak ineffective government systems and blame others for shortcomings? Politicize, promise and placate every four years? We’ve been conditioned to believe that, quiet acquiescence, accepting less is just part of being a humble Canadian, accepting less is not humility, it is hardwiring mediocracy where excellence should live. Why would we want less for ourselves or anyone else? I say know better, do the work to be better, just do better. Honour our collective promise, live with enough compassion and empathy that you will not accept old narratives driven by control and fear. Understand we are each other, we are not separate. We need each other, the best of each other. We need our systems, structures and institutions to reflect the best of us, to want the best for us. There are no short cuts to excellence, we can live up to our greatest expectations, to truly be the beacon we are seen to be. It’s more than time.

Peggy Taillon

Founder and President,

HERA @heramission 613-769-5499

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