by Ogden W. Rogers, Ph.D., LCSW, ACSW, author of Beginnings, Middles, & Ends: Sideways Stories on the Art & Soul of Social Work
As he looked into the darkened late afternoon of my office, I’m sure Hanna found me sitting behind my desk, hunched over with my head in my hands.
“Why so glum, Grasshopper?”
I looked up and showed him the newspaper I had been reading, the headline revealing yet another policy shift in political tides that I felt was foreboding. Budgets were being slashed; programs were being cut. The way I was reading the news, it seemed like all the things I believed in as a social worker were being voted down again and again in the legislature. The Governor supported these mean spirited winds, and I was feeling sort of defeated for the future of my clients, my profession, and I guess, many of the things I saw of value.
“I dunno, Hanna,” I said. I shook my head. “Look at this bill that they passed today. It’s going to cut services to the most vulnerable of the clients we serve. I can’t believe I live in a society where people are so blind to this need. I worry about the risk this is going to put on some folks' lives.”
“Semper Paratus, Semper Gumby,” Hanna offered.
“Huh? ‘Semper Paratus’ - ‘Always Ready,’ the Coast Guard motto?” I asked.
“My grandfather was a surfman in the Coast Guard out of Cape May, New Jersey. The life boats, in his day, were pulled by oars into the ocean. The guys who were surfmen would plunge their boats out from the beach to save drowning men from shipwrecks. As a kid, I remember he used to tell me, ‘You can’t calm an angry ocean, but you can pluck a desperate sailor from the sea.’”
“They were heroes,” I replied. “Courageous men.”
“They were some crazy guys,” Hanna agreed, reaching over my desk and grabbing the newspaper. “This stuff comes and goes. Politics goes sideways sometimes. You can’t let it stop you. The need will always be there. How you try to meet it just has to be different. Social work isn’t just one way. Social policy isn’t just one way. There are a million ways to skin cats in the naked city. If the government abandons, then privately people will need to address. Our job is to stay awake, raise alarms, and still to reach out to the desperate.” He tossed the paper into a waste bin.
I looked across to him. “Let me guess. ‘Semper Gumby’ - ‘Always Flexible.’”
“You got it, Grasshopper. ‘Semper Paratus, Semper Gumby.’ Always keep alert. Always pay attention. Zig when you gotta zig. Zag when you gotta Zag. Even when the seas get rough, the social worker keeps reaching out.”
“Thanks, Hanna. That’s encouraging. I feel better. You’re the only guy I know that could take late 19th century nautical history and make a good social work metaphor out it.”
Hanna walked out the office with a smile. “Semper Insanis, Grasshopper, Semper Insanis.”
I laughed. “Always Crazy!”
Ogden W. Rogers, Ph.D., LCSW, ACSW, is the author of Beginnings, Middles, & Ends: Sideways Stories on the Art & Soul of Social Work. Dr. Rogers is Professor and Chair of the Department of Social Work at The University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been a clinician, consultant, educator, and storyteller. Dr. Rogers began his social work career in community and adult psychiatry in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He’s worked in emergency and critical-care medicine, disaster mental health, and mental health program delivery and evaluation in both public and private auspices. In more recent years, he’s been actively involved with the American Red Cross International Services Division concerning human rights in armed conflict.