We’ve all done it.  Walked into a situation feeling overly confident…ready to take everyone by storm, only to get knocked down on our took us by unexpected “facts”.   Lucky for me, this happened very early in my non-profit career.  I started working at a rape crisis center doing fundraising.  I brought with me a lot of enthusiasm, some strident feminism and a whole lot of misconceptions about how to work with survivors.  I quickly learned:

      1. You never tell a survivor when to leave their perpetrator.
Walking in my solidly middle class, privileged white world, I thought these women just needed support so they could leave.  Of course, the very kind, very experienced staff at this center gently informed me that when a survivor chooses to leave his or her perpetrator, it is the most “lethal” time in the relationship.  In other words, the survivor’s chances of being murdered are highest when she is leaving.  Hmmm…that’s a pretty good reason NOT to presume to know when a survivor should leave her perpetrator.

     2. Never tell a survivor what she NEEDS to do.
Everyone needs therapy…right!  Well, sure, lots of folks benefit from therapy, but many times rape survivors need six months or so to feel like they are “in control” enough of their lives to start dealing with what happened.  Again, the very experienced, very kind staff informed me that everyone’s recovery looks different.  Some people benefit greatly from therapy in the year or so following the attack, while others have to choose a different time and place and even method to recover.  It may be years or decades later, but you must trust the survivor to know what is best.

I learned so much from the extraordinary women who worked at DeKalb Rape Crisis Center with me.  I am so grateful that this was my entry point into the non-profit world.  I learned quickly that work in the non-profit or social service world starts with humility.  I do not know the path that anyone else has taken to stand in front of me.  I cannot possibly know what they should do next.  All I can do is listen and do my best to explain options that might be available.  This lesson was the single most valuable thing that I have learned in my nearly 15 years in the non-profit world. 

So, the next time you walk into a room feeling overly confident, only to get knocked down, just remind yourself that (A) You’re in good company (mine!); and (B) This moment will pass and be replaced with a good dose of humility and an opportunity to truly see and understand another person’s experience.

That is why I consider humility to be the sharpest tool in my shed!

Tonja Holder
Durga Consulting

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