The lies we tell in social work

By devin, 6 October, 2014

I feel like I tell lies as a part of my job in social work. With more frequency than I'd like.

This is more pronounced at the summer camp I work with, since we work with children. I'll talk about that, but I experience a similar feeling of "I'm being patronizing right now" when working with adults at my workplace.

At camp, we lie to campers for many reasons.

  1. To get them to do what we want - "I asked the camp director and I'm so sorry but she said you can't stay up past curfew, Travis"
  2. To reassure them - "I've never seen a leech in this lake before, so I wouldn't worry too much"
  3. To get to know them better - "Tell me more about your book, I'm very interested"
  4. To make our job easier - "Let's call your mom tomorrow, Mackenzie" (when in reality we've called her mom three times for advice already)

I would say that most of these lies warranted in some situations. The problem is that these are all patronizing and (to use a hysteria-tinged word) dehumanizing to the kids we're saying it to. We're not respecting their intellect. I've been a camp counsellor, so I know that these lies are invaluable (and probably are to parents too). But I think in the long run, we can do a great service to kids by being ever more radically honest with them.

And I think the same applies to customers or clients we work with. And I think our friends and family would benefit from more and more radical honesty. It's not something to do all in one day, but we build others up by telling them what's actually happening in the world. It may make things more complicated for us, but it's worth the long-term effort.

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