by Addison Cooper, LCSW
When you find yourself in a position of influence, what do you want to say?
The 2015 Academy Awards saw several winners using their moment to speak about social issues—most notably suicide, wage equality for women, and racism. Perhaps the most poignant speaker was Graham Moore.
Graham Moore addressed a television audience of millions when he won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in the 2015 Oscars. His film, The Imitation Game, is the story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician whose codebreaking work helped defeat the Nazis, and who later was criminally persecuted by Britain for being gay.
The film was engaging, beautiful, and challenging. Three months after its United States release, Moore was called to the stage by award presenter Oprah Winfrey, and he was able to address a global audience from a position of influence for 30 seconds. Here’s what he said:
When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird, stay different, and then when it’s your turn, and you are standing on the stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.
His film challenged society’s tendency to ostracize those we view as different and saw the suicide of a persecuted individual. His speech reached out to those who feel different, came alongside those people with the camaraderie of one who has been there, and promised them that they do have a place where they fit in and belong. Graham Moore found himself in a position of influence and used it powerfully and beautifully to include, console, and inspire people in pain.
As social workers, we probably won’t address global audiences via live television, but we do find ourselves—perhaps frequently—in positions of influence. When we’re speaking to clients, to their families, to people we supervise, to our colleagues—we are in positions of influence. Our opinions and words are often taken to heart.
We’re also, perhaps more frequently than others, in positions of influence with regard to people who are hurting and who are in vulnerable seasons of life. Our words have heightened potentials to help encourage people toward healing. Let’s be intentional about that.
One thing particularly helpful that Graham Moore did was sharing his own story. He didn’t just say, “If you feel like you don’t fit in, well, you do, so don’t give up.” He acknowledged his own journey through those feelings. This allows him to normalize the feelings “that kid out there” is having, and then to speak from experience.
As social workers, we are careful about self-disclosure. It can’t be for our own benefit. But I think it’s often a mistake to shy away from self-disclosure completely. Using it intentionally and carefully is different from avoiding it. And sometimes, elements of our life experiences do mirror elements of our clients’ or subordinate workers’ lives. Prudent self-disclosure can make our words more effective and more meaningful. Our position makes our words powerful. Our clients’ situations might be making our words timely.
This week, let’s keep our eyes open for opportunities to speak hope into the lives of people who are hurting. As social workers, we are in positions of influence. Like Graham Moore, let’s use that position powerfully and beautifully to include, console, and inspire people in pain.
Addison Cooper, LCSW, is the founder of Adoption at the Movies (www.adoptionlcsw.com), where he invites families to use film to engage each other in important conversations. Find him at www.facebook.com/AdoptionAtTheMovies or on Twitter @AddisonCooper.