The NYTimes article above provides a clear case in favour of how social services (and, in the same vein, many mental health professionals such as myself) often do better work with their clients by empowering them to build solutions from within their own knowledge of strengths and resources, rather than dispensing advice and solutions. The F.I.I.’s work proves this works as well on a community-at-large level as on the individual level.
The article also highlights the difficulty for agencies and practitioners alike in disciplining ourselves to avoid the tendency to advise and solve. Advice, no matter how well-meaning, is based in OUR experiences, filtered through OUR values, and in the end may be inappropriate in a client’s or community’s different context. The need to solve other people’s problems is a slippery slope rooted by a lot of motivations that are often more about us than those we think we’re trying to help.
The F.I.I. is doing some excellent work to build self-empowerment within communities by helping collectives assess their own resources, and developing strengths that support the community toward flourishing. This is an approach I can get behind, even as I have to remind myself more regularly than I’d like to admit, that I’m not in the business of advising, but rather one of encouragement. It’s not my understanding of resources that will help someone most, it’s the understanding we can develop in someone else, based on what they already know… even when they don’t know they know it.