I have all the qualifications necessary to be an outstanding CASA advocate. I participate professionally in advocating for people who believe that truth and fact are moral imperatives. I have been a single mother, I have been completely broke wondering how I would support my kids, I am a woman who made her way through a male dominated profession, an entrepreneur of sorts, fought addiction and survived the whims of a chaotically confused mother. On paper, I look like the ideal volunteer for CASA – but I flunked my interview and I know exactly when it happened.
The program director had been thrilled with all my answers except one. I knew as I tried to explain the larger dimension of my answer, the bigger picture that it would fall on deaf ears. I could blame the woman for her short-sightedness but I chose to spend the day and evening reflecting on what happened. I chose to take control. I chose to find a grain of truth. It was there but grains of truth should never disqualify a person who knows they are there. Grains of truth hide within all of us. She said she would get back to me in a few days but I didn’t need a few days to self-reflect.
Why I failed is bigger than my interview; however, I did spend the day asking myself if I would change anything that I said to “go along to get along?” “NO” – but it cost me something I dearly wanted to do as I wind down my career. My career and how I make a stand in the world is what did me in.
I have a deep sense of right and wrong but I know the grey areas and nuance take precedent. I have compassion for those less fortunate regardless of their political leanings, education level, economic status or bad life choices. I stood in a food stamp line once because I didn’t have the money week to week to pay rent and bills and buy food. The woman behind the desk was so rude to me once I got to her that my temper got the best of me and I told her she could keep her goddam food stamps. I suppose that’s one way the government can keep people off the dole. Insult and belittle them and see if they take it or walk away. I survived without them but I will never forget the demeaning and demoralizing attitude of that government bureaucrat toward me; thus, I have a personal reference point with those less fortunate.
I found the right career in learning how to fight back against injustice. I had to negotiate and advocate for clients. I learned to negotiate effectively by finding common ground. I got more for my clients many times by expressing sympathy and understanding for my opposing sides needs. Anger never worked. Yelling and name-calling never worked especially for a woman. I learned from a male boss who I heard yell in to the phone once “I will cut your balls off and ram them down your throat” during a negotiation – a tack like that would end my career.
I rarely mention who my clients are as it has become a polarizing focal point more times than not. When people ask what I do or have done for a career I mention I negotiate television contracts. Most people shrug their shoulders and leave it at that. Some ask what that means and I try to keep it generic. The CASA people were interested. I didn’t tell them who I represent simply that I work with clients who are in the television news hosting business. They asked what that meant and I told them it involved politics. They asked how I would react to working with people who voted for Trump. I knew we were going into territory at that point that would probably be a no win for me. I explained that political bias is best kept to oneself just like religion. Well, they continued what if the family had Trump signs on the lawn. Again, I said that in the news business many of Trump supporters are referred to as low information voters. I should have said Clinton supporters as well. I continued saying that I understood why people may have voted for Trump. He promised jobs and changes that he won’t be able to deliver but they yearn for something better and they hope that he can make it happen. I wouldn’t talk politics with these families I said again. I am not sure how the conversation veered but I said that I have compassion for people who feel stuck. I don’t have compassion for people in power who know better and take advantage. I thought this would open a discussion about how one deals with the very human emotion of disdain for that kind of person while serving a bigger cause. I mentioned Paul Ryan’s name as that kind of person, assuming he would never be a CASA person, who has great political power and wields it against the less fortunate. End of interview!
I was stunned when she said she needed a few days to think about my being able to volunteer. Upon reflection, I probably would never be right for CASA even when I know I would never berate or make someone feel less than for their political or religious beliefs given the task to help or guide or advocate on their behalf. She even started the interview explaining that CASA has a tremendous support system for volunteers who needed to express or receive guidance with difficult cases; yet, somewhere in the interview I had pushed a button. Whatever that button was – which I assume was my admission that I would have trouble and need assistance with certain types people – the discussion ended.
The bigger issue is not whether I can be a good volunteer or whether they were overly cautious. We have become a country so polarized that we are either politically correct or white nationalist, racist and immigrant-hating. There is no middle. There was no room for discussion about my concern. I was blocked before I could start. What of the people who never verbalize their feelings of disdain or fear of disdain until it’s too late.
I don’t blame the program director, she heard a warning bell and assumed the worst. I put a stop to the process before she responded. I wasn’t going to be in a position of monitoring every move or word if they had accepted me because I know myself and I know my limits and I have spent 40 years practicing common ground for a greater good. The bottom line is that we need to stop being either politically correct or racist baiting white nationalists and find common ground before it’s too late.